Paraguay's Abdo Benitez: son of dictator's aide

Asuncion (AFP) –


Mario Abdo Benitez's family may have been linked with Paraguay's late dictator Alfredo Stroessner, but it didn't harm his campaign, as the 46-year-old on Sunday became the country's newly-elected president.

A twice-married former senator who studied marketing in the United States, "Marito" as he is popularly known, was long hailed as the favorite to succeed outgoing president Horacio Cartes.

Although his victory was narrower than expected -- 46 percent of the vote compared with nearly 43 percent for his rival Efrain Alegre -- analysts said his win suggested Paraguayans had managed to turn the page on the darkest chapter of their recent history.

Abdo Benitez's father was Stroessner's private secretary, and they also had a family connection.

"What they tell me is that Stroessner often stayed at my grandmother's house when he came to Asuncion to study at the military college, because there was a distant relationship between my grandmother and the mother of General Stroessner," Abdo Benitez said.

But past connections with the dictator accused by human rights groups of up to 3,000 killings and disappearances during his 1954-1989 rule have been left aside in the electoral campaign.

"Those who are less than 40 years old no longer remember the dictatorship, which is why it is not part of the discussion in this campaign," said political analyst Francisco Capli.

"I am proud that the victims who suffered mistreatment and torture at that time are working with me today," Abdo Benitez told AFP in an interview.

"This is another era. If I had been rejected, they would not be with me."

The president-elect is a product of Paraguay's high society but he claims to have forged his own political identity since entering politics in 1992.

"I was 17 when Stroessner fell," he said, with his father jailed for corruption shortly after.

"I regret the dark part of our history, but like many Paraguayans I think it should not be an excuse to maintain division among compatriots," he said.