Rise of Illegal Armed Groups Adds to Paraguay’s Security Troubles

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Recent reports of attacks and threats by two non-state militias have shaken Paraguay, where authorities are already struggling to contain the EPP, a small but active Marxist guerrilla group.

On August 12, five heavily-armed individuals wearing military uniforms allegedly fired threatening shots at two indigenous youths in western Paraguay, reported ABC Color. The newspaper described the armed group as “paramilitaries.”

A lawyer told ABC Color he considers the reported threat against the indigenous youths a “reprisal” ordered by a nearby ranching company. Weeks earlier, members of the community had attempted to prevent the company from deforesting indigenous land, according to ABC Color.

Meanwhile, in early August a group calling themselves “Justicieros de la Frontera” declared war on the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), according to Ultima Hora. Alleged members of the group sent a threatening message directed at the EPP via the text messaging platform Whatsapp. 

“We know every member, so start begging for your lives now,” the message read. “We are already trailing you. The war starts now.”

On August 9, a mechanic shop belonging to the parents of Manuel Cristaldo Mieres, one of the EPP’s leaders, was burned and shot at, reported Ultima Hora. A note found at the shop the next day — allegedly signed by Justicieros de la Frontera — warned the EPP they would pay for their crimes.

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The formation of new illegal armed groups could present significant security challenges for Paraguay, which has struggled to rein in the EPP despite the rebel group reportedly counting as few as 20 fighters among its ranks. In April 2014, the EPP captured 17-year-old Arlan Fick, who remained captive for over eight months despite multiple attempts by authorities to rescue him. The EPP also carried out a series of high-profile attacks in July 2014, and last month Paraguayan authorities claimed the guerrilla group was acting as the “armed wing” for drug traffickers.

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These reports of increased activity by armed groups come at an inopportune time for Paraguay, which is still feeling the fallout of a narco-politics scandal that broke late last year. Since the killing of a journalist investigating Paraguay’s marijuana trade in October 2014, several members of Congress and security officials have been implicated or arrested for alleged ties to drug traffickers. 

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