Seiferheld maintains that during the regimes of Colonel Rafael Franco and Félix Paiva (February 1936-August 1939) Paraguay “was infected with the fascist virus and the Nazi racial doctrine which preached segregation and Aryan superiority” (p. 17). He argues that such government ministers as Bernardino Caballero and Gomes Freire Esteves (under Franco) and Lt. Colonel Arturo Bray (under Paiva) were avid exponents of nazi-fascist ideas, and that they attempted to apply these concepts—or at least their version of them—in the Paraguayan national context. Seiferheld generally seeks to prove his thesis by analyzing the anti-Semitic decrees issued and the anti-Semitic practices manifested by government ministers in these two regimes, and by attempting to gauge the impact of these assorted decrees, policy statements, and declarations on the Paraguayan body politic.
Seiferheld has many examples to work with, and he certainly presents his case energetically, but his case is ultimately flawed. Certainly during the Franco and Paiva regimes decrees designed to restrict Jewish immigration were promulgated. Nevertheless, as Seiferheld himself admits, these orders were greatly evaded (pp. 17 and 107). Mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews continued, and before Paiva relinquished office in August 1939, legislation to inhibit Jewish immigration was pigeonholed. Do countries “infected with the fascist virus and the Nazi racial doctrine” act in so slipshod a manner? Perhaps, but, in my view, in 1936-1939 Jewish immigrants continued to seek refuge in Paraguay because it was a good deal easier to deal with anti-Jewish Paraguayans than with German storm troopers. Put another way, in 1936-39 there were all manner of then-fashionable nazi-fascist ideas manifested in Paraguay, but these only cloaked the traditional Latin American personalist dictatorship that has long been the national leadership style.
Most curious, however, is the fact that while Seiferheld spends a good deal of the book analyzing Nazi influence in Paraguay, the Auslandsorganisation (the official branch of the Nazi party overseas) gets relatively short shrift. The author notes that locally held documents and records would not be released by Paraguayan authorities. On the other hand, the British Foreign Office-U. S. State Department work, Documents Selected from German Foreign Office Records, is quite likely the most complete and accurate repository of data concerning Auslandsorganisation strategies and goals in Paraguay, and the orders issued to it by party chiefs in Germany. The fact that Seiferheld does not appear to have consulted this source gives me further reason to question his thesis regarding the degree to which Nazi influence permeated Paraguay in 1936-39.
Nevertheless, these points should not detract from Nazismo y fascismo’s strong points. As a straightforward political history, what Seiferheld has produced is the best study extant of Paraguay from the end of the Chaco War until the accession to the presidency of Marshal Félix Estigarribia late in August 1939. Couple this study with Michael Grow’s The Good Neighbor Policy and Authoritarianism in Paraguay, and for the first time Paraguayanists (that small but gallant band of scholars and researchers) finally have a fairly complete and accurate picture of the decade preceding the Stroessner years. That in itself is not an insignificant development.