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Paraguay: Ex-dictator's mansion sparks curiosity
Latinamerica Press / September 21, 1995

By Larry Luxner

ASUNCION, Paraguay -- If it were a museum, it would quickly become the most popular in Paraguay. But Gen. Alfredo Stroessner's former safehouse remains off-limits -- at least for now -- to most curiosity-seekers.

Surrounded by a high fence, the lavish house in Asunción's wealthy Villa Aurelia neighborhood was owned until a few years ago by Col. Feliciano Duarte, one of the few Stroessner henchmen who didn't end up in prison. After Stroessner's March 1989 overthrow by his own son-in-law, Gen. Andres Rodríguez, Duarte decided to leave the country, and unloaded the house for $300,000 to a local family, even though the new owner herself says it's worth at least $3 million.

"Stroessner didn't have a fixed residence. He came here at least twice a week," said the woman -- who asked not to be identified -- as she gave her first-ever tour of the house ever to a foreign journalist. "It was guarded by six dogs and police everywhere."

The house itself is incredible both for its historical value and its vulgar excesses. It covers 3,000 square meters on an 11,000-square-meter plot of land. It contains at more than two dozen bedrooms and at least 20 bathrooms, all of them with the original furnishings.

Framed portraits of Duarte shaking hands with Stroessner can be found in one living room, while in the basement, thousands of bottles of mineral water sit, gathering dust. Huge fireproof safes can be found throughout the house, along with numerous walk-in freezers and a sauna. There's even a barber's chair where Stroessner had his weekly haircut, and a meeting hall -- with 16 elegant high-backed chairs and a very long table -- where the dictator regularly met with his top generals to discuss strategy.

"There are many big houses in this neighborhood, but none of them are like this," boasted the owner, who lives in the house with her husband Leon and three children.

Some of Stroessner's personal effects can be found throughout the house, though some of the more unusual items associated with the dictatorship remain unaccounted for. During his 35-year regime, for instance, Stroessner supposedly used a sophisticated eavesdropping device made by the French firm Alcatel to spy on his enemies. After Stroessner's overthrow, the machine -- which could monitor 2,000 lines at a time -- passed into the hands of the Army. No one seems to know its whereabouts.

Despite the home's historical interest, the new owners say they have no intention of turning it into a museum.

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