In spite of a security surge by the Paraguayan military, the country’s elusive rebel army is rapidly gaining momentum, having dramatically stepped up its operations last year.

When the Paraguayan government called a 60-day state of emergency last October in order to capture members of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), Vice President Federico Franco promised to "make war" until the group was eliminated. But although troops were deployed to the rebel’s area of influence in the north, no high-profile arrests were made. The EPP even released a statement mocking the security surge.

“They claim, with characteristic falsehood, that they didn’t find the EPP,” the statement read. “This couldn’t be further from the truth! It is the EPP who was looking for them all over in order to engage them in combat. But our desires were never satisfied.”

The communique’s victorious rhetoric is surprising coming from a group that has come off as hopelessly amateur in the past. In January 2011, officials broke up an EPP “training camp” in which idealistic young recruits read revolutionary leftist pamphlets and trained with wooden weapons. But this shift in tone fits well with the group’s rapidly growing political profile.

The EPP began as an offshoot of another radical fringe group, the Free Homeland Party (Partido Patria Libre – PPL). After the PPL was taken apart by security forces in 2005, several members decided to form a new group with which to continue the armed struggle. According to a recent investigation by ABC Digital, former PPL members Manuel Cristaldo Mieres, Magna Meza and Osvaldo Villalba (pictured below, left to right) traveled to the interior of Colombia to receive military training from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

EPPleaders

Upon their return, these three carried out a string of assassinations of police officials until March 1, 2008, when they officially named themselves the EPP and began to recruit members under its banner.

Since then, the group has become bolder. As the map below illustrates, the rebels have carried out 27 separate armed operations (including ambushes and assassinations; bombings and arson attacks; and multiple kidnappings) in the north of the country since their early days in 2005. More than half of these incidents have occurred in the past two years, and eleven (40 percent) occurred in 2011 alone.

EPP_Armed_Actions

There is also evidence that the group is becoming more politically sophisticated in its attacks, using them as opportunities to score propaganda points amongst the rural poor in its area of operation. In its latest operation, for instance, the group stormed a ranch in the northern department of Concepcion on February 26.

After burning it to the ground and killing its livestock, the rebels instructed its inhabitants and workers to give the meat to poor members of a nearby Mbya Guarani indigenous community and stop contributing to deforestation in the area. They then fled, leaving behind a message to the security forces promising to avenge two of their comrades killed in 2010.

Despite the clear propagandist aim of such incidents, however, it is unclear whether they succeed in helping the EPP develop popular support. After first signaling that they would accept the EPP’s slaughtered meat, the local Mbya Guarani then said they would refuse it when the local government offered aid in its place. The EPP made a similar gesture to the indigenous group in 2010, when part of the ransom payment they demanded from a rancher included a food donation to the community. This was also turned down.

A potential impediment to the group’s efforts to build support networks is its track record of homicides. Of the 16 people the EPP is believed to have killed since 2005, more have been civilians than police officers (nine and seven, respectively).

The fact that the group relies on kidnappings for most of its funds also contributes negatively to its public image. While many of those kidnapped by the group are freed upon the payment of ransom, others have not been so lucky. In 2004, for instance, EPP leader Manuel Cristaldo Mieres is believed to have orchestrated the kidnapping of Cecilia Cubas, the daughter of ex-President Raul Cubas. Cubas was found dead in a shallow grave in February of 2005, and investigators now believe she was buried alive.

Still, given the fact that the EPP was left nearly untouched by state of emergency, it must count on some level of local support. In order to prevent this from developing into a larger scale internal conflict, the Paraguayan government may need to deepen the involvement of the army and military intelligence in its strategy against the rebels.

However, this may not happen until 2013, when President Fernando Lugo’s term expires. Such a move would require a president with a trusting relationship with the military, and as InSight Crime has noted, the Lugo presidency has been sullied by poor civil-military relations. This is especially significant given the relatively high degree of political influence that the military has in the country, a legacy of the 35-year military dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner. Since taking office in 2008, Lugo has dismissed the leaders of the military command four times, one of which appeared to be in response to rumors of a coup plot.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
Prev Next

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy.