According to Navy intelligence officials, the leftist Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) and the Insurgent People’s Revolutionary Army (ERPI) have obtained automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades from the illegal arms trade on Mexico’s southern border, reports El Universal.
In response to this, as well as the flow of weapons to Mexico’s drug cartels, the Navy established nine Advanced Naval Stations (ENAs) on the border with Guatemala and Belize in 2009.
The paper also reported that the larger of the two groups, the EPR, has spread throughout the country. Recently-released intelligence documents indicate that EPR rebels are present not only in the group’s home state of Guerrero, but in 11 other states as well.
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The EPR emerged in 1996, when 100 masked guerrillas entered the town of Aguas Blancas, Guerrero, and publicly read the group’s manifesto calling for the overthrow of the Mexican government. In the 1990s the EPR was less active than its more famous guerrilla cousins, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), although it launched several attacks against Mexican security forces during this time. More recently, in July and September of 2007, the EPR bombed six oil and gas pipelines. Despite fears at the time that the group could begin increasingly targeting infrastructure, the EPR has not launched any new attacks since the bombings, although it has been connected to the 2010 kidnapping of a Mexican politician.
The ERPI emerged in 1998 as a splinter group of the EPR. Based in Guerrero, the group is thought to be more ideologically driven than the EPR, but its ability to conduct attacks was significantly impaired by the arrest of its two principal leaders in 1999.
It is easier to explain how the two groups have been rearming — obtaining old Soviet-model weapons from Guatemala’s civil war stockpiles on the black market — than why. The EZLN gained broader support in the Mexican left and in mainstream politics by distancing itself from armed struggle within Mexico and focusing more on social and political work, but the EPR and the ERPI have refused to renounce military activity.
The apparent growth of the EPR is worrying. In Colombia, both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) are still very active, while in Peru, the Shining Path is growing once again, thanks to its increasingly involvement in the drug trade. While the cold war and the civil wars it spawned are over, left-wing rebel groups in Latin America are far from dead.