Paraguay’s new head of state declared a frontal assault on the northern EPP guerrillas in August, but just shy of 100 days into his presidency, there is little sign the group has been weakened while troubles in the rest of the country continue apace.
Shortly after President Horacio Cartes assumed office on August 15, he was faced with the most deadly attack yet by the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), in the north-central department of Tacuati. Days later, rebels attacked a police patrol in the same department, injuring two. Following these attacks, Cartes was granted powers that allowed him to move 400 soldiers, 60 of them special forces, into the north — EPP territory.
On November 20, authorities arrested the sister of an EPP leader, who allegedly provided logistical support in the kidnapping and killing of a cattle rancher earlier this year. The arrest followed an early November statement by Interior Minister Francisco de Vargas that the government had captured four suspected EPP members and identified eight more since beginning a military campaign against the group in late August, reported Ultima Hora.
However, results have been limited, as Ultima Hora reported. Shootouts between police and rebels have been unfruitful, the leaders remain at large, and an October attack left one government employee dead and several police injured.
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The EPP appears to have gained strength in recent years, which could be thanks in part to an alleged relationship with international drug traffickers. However, the group is still thought to number under 100 fighters, making it a relatively small security challenge compared to problems such as drug trafficking in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) with Brazil and Argentina, facilitated by impunity in the region, and the growing presence of transnational criminal groups.
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In this context, questions remain not only over the effectiveness of Cartes’ campaign against the EPP — which has also involved the offering of monetary awards for information about rebel leaders — but also of the purpose it is serving. Though the president initially claimed the group would not mark his agenda, since assuming power he has made the eradication of the EPP one of his flagship projects.
For Cartes, who has himself been accused of drug trafficking ties, the EPP may be little more than a convenient target that allows him to point to concrete successes of his administration in the fight against organized crime and while his campaign has few solid results to celebrate, it has at least dominated the country’s security discourse.