Paraguay Makes Controversial Appointment to Head of Anti-EPP Ops

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Paraguay has appointed a new Joint Task Force commander in charge of operations against the country’s EPP guerrilla group, but critics question his ability to combat the rebels amid growing concern over the threat they pose.

In a decree issued on August 5, President Horacio Cartes appointed Colonel Ramon Benitez as the new commander of the Joint Task Force (FTC), a police and military unit created to combat the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), reported ABC Color. Benitez previously served as the commander of Army Special Forces and Chief of Staff of the FTC.

Although the decree did not give a reason for the change in leadership, ABC Color suggested it was due to the FTC’s failure to rescue EPP kidnapping victim Arlan Fick or effectively combat the rebels.

Despite the appointment, Benitez has received criticism from other military and police personnel. The colonel reportedly led a 2010 operation in search of an EPP leader in which military personnel allegedly beat up police officers and stole their weapons. During another operation earlier this year targeting an EPP camp, a decision Benitez made allegedly allowed EPP members to escape. The colonel has also been criticized for relying on faulty intelligence information.  

The change in FTC leadership comes amid concern about ties between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the EPP. Officials have announced the possibility of a FARC incursion in Paraguay.     

InSight Crime Analysis

Cartes created the FTC in August 2013 to monitor the area in northern Paraguay where the EPP operates, and has placed a great security focus on targeting the group. However, in spite of the fact that the EPP is believed to include fewer than one hundred members, Paraguayan security forces have had little success combating the rebel movement, and Cartes’ policies have even been accused of spurring a spike in guerrilla actions. Recent crimes attributed to the group include the kidnapping of 16-year-old Fick — who was taken hostage in April — the recent kidnapping of a police officer and a July attack on an electricity tower.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the EPP

According to Defense Minister Bernardino Soto Estigarribia, operations against the EPP have so far largely failed because of a lack of security force cooperation. Given this, it is worth questioning whether appointing a new FTC commander with an alleged track record of poor police relations and apparently faulty use of intelligence information could further cripple efforts to root out the guerrilla group.

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