The Scarlet & Black

The Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Global Cold Cases with Elisa: Paraguay


Cold Cases: Bernardo Aranda and Case 108 

In the early morning of Sept. 1, 1959, the residents of Barrio Obrero in Asunción, Paraguay, were promptly awoken by a ringing blast, the sound of an event that would forever impact the history of Paraguay. A fire had started in one of the buildings and the consecutive explosion alarmed not only neighbors but also the authorities, who rushed into action upon seeing the fire. Soon after, the scorched body of 27-year-old radio host, dancer and speaker Bernardo Aranda was found inside the apartment where the fire started. The authorities originally theorized that it had been an accident, and then that Aranda had committed suicide, however there was no conclusive evidence for either case. A third theory was posed that the police stuck to for the rest of the investigation: a crime of passion. 

Although this was never confirmed, it was rumored that Aranda was gay, something that both the press and the authorities immediately clung to as a factor in the murder. With this in mind, the government, police, press, and general public all seemed to agree that the murder could only possibly be a crime of passion resulting out of some sort of encounter gone wrong within a “homosexual fraternity” that Aranda might have been connected to (there was never any evidence or proof that might lead to this conclusion, which was rather pushed by the conservative ideologies of Paraguayan society at the time). Ultimately this conclusion is what would lead to the infamous “Caso 108,” a tragedy that forever shook the Paraguayan LGBTQ+ community. 

Caso 108 

Five years before the murder, Alfredo Stroessner came into power in Paraguay after leading a coup d’état and taking over the government. What followed were 35 years of a violent and oppressive military regime known as “El Stronato.” During this period over 20,000 people were tortured, over 4,000 were murdered and 420 activists and opponents were “disappeared” by the state. Among the earlier atrocities committed by the dictatorship, there was the persecution, defamation and torture of 108 men who were believed to be gay by the government and press. This was pushed through both governmental ideals and conservative views within Paraguayan society, which even before the persecution led to many members of the LGBTQ+ community to live in secret in order to protect themselves from physical harm and social ostracization.  

Following Aranda’s death and with a public statement of the alleged role of homosexuality in the murder, the police’s efforts zoned in on people they called “of dubious morality.” In the days following the crime, rather than conducting a proper investigation grounded on physical evidence, the authorities started relying on the narrative of a “homosexual crime of passion” to begin a witch hunt in Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. The persecution came from two fronts: the secret operations of the government and the social marginalization and antagonization directed by some citizens towards the LGBTQ+ community. Within a week of Aranda’s murder, the military and police had already started to seek out men they believed were not heterosexual and capture them in secret. During the period they were detained, most of these men suffered from physical and psychological torture as they were brutalized for their perceived sexuality under the justification that they were seeking justice for Bernardo Aranda. 

After a series of arrests on Sept. 12, El País, one of the more popular newspapers of Paraguay (with ties to the military regime) published an update on the case in which they mentioned that “108 personas de dudosa conducta sexual” (108 people of doubtful/immoral sexual conduct) were being investigated. This news, along with the use of inflammatory rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community and a sense of insecurity, led to a full-blown moral panic in Paraguay in which gay men became the main threat. Nine days after the news, on Sept. 21, a series of raids are carried out by the police of Asunción in places deemed as centers of organization for gay men. From here, people who were believed to belong within this group were brutalized by the government and publicly shunned by society after flyers were posted in which the names of said individuals were published. This resulted in extreme cases of violence both from civilians and the government, who claimed they were trying to rid society of amorality. 

In the end, Aranda’s case never reached a conclusion, his death forgotten upon the wake of the mass persecution carried out in Paraguay. This event led to a series of protests and reactions against the government and those involved in the persecution of LGBTQ+ members. Among these protests was a letter dedicated to El País on Sept. 30 titled “Carta De Un Amoral” (Letter from An Amoral.) Here the anonymous author asked the press and the people to realize the moral wrongs of the the persecution and that queer people are as human as anybody else. Decades later, in recognition of the atrocity of the “Caso 108,” Sept. 30 officially became the “National Day of LGBTQ+ Remembrance” in honor of the 109 victims of injustice. 




Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *