ASUNCION, Paraguay -- The government of President Alfredo Stroessner, the longest-reigning leader in the hemisphere, Wednesday allowed a state of siege to lapse in the capital after 33 years of near-constant enforcement.
Retired Gen. Marcial Samaniego, vice president of the chamber of deputies, said the government had decided simply not to renew the state of siege, as it had every three months for the past three decades.
'They didn't lift it. They simply didn't renew it,' Samaniego said.
Political sources in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires said the decision may have been prompted by Paraguay's desire to improve its relations with neighboring Argentina and Brazil, which are ruled now by democratic governments.
The sources said the state of siege could have represented an obstacle to Paraguay's participation in a regional economic cooperation pact with the other countries.
Stroessner has ruled under a state of siege the entire time he has been in power, except for a short period in 1959. The emergency powers allowed the arrest of anyone deemed a threat to government stability.
At first the state of siege covered the entire country, but later was limited to the capital city of Asuncion. But opposition politicians say the government applied the siege measures arbitrarily across the country.
Although Samaniego said the end of the state of siege 'would be a great thing,' opposition politician Cesar Baez Samaniego of the Revolutionary Febrerist party said. 'The government will continue with its repressive system.' The Samaniegos are not related.
Liberal Party Deputy Carlos Ferreyra Ibarra said Wednesday's action could return Paraguay to the ranks of countries living in real democracy 'even though we still have a long way to go before citizens will enjoy their full rights.'
But constitutional law professor Justo Jose Prieto said he was 'not optimistic about public freedom because current law gives the executive branch powers that are much greater than those granted by the state of siege.'
'The only guarantee citizens might have against officialdom's discretional powers would be an independent judicial system, which we don't have now,' Prieto said.
Stroessner, an army general, seized power in a 1954 coup and later won six consecutive presidential elections that opposition politicians have complained were rigged.