Military


Paraguayan People’s Army
(Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo - EPP)

The Paraguayan People's Army (EPP - Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo) staged a brazen assault 27 August 2016 on a military patrol and stole weapons in an attack that left eight soldiers dead. The attack was carried out against troops near Horqueta, about 420 kilometers (291 miles) north of the capital Asuncion.

The Interior Ministry announced: "At about 9 a.m. (Saturday) a routine patrol was the object of an attack on a country road in the Arroyito district ... the attackers detonated explosives as the truck passed and then carried out a cowardly armed attack on the wounded soldiers." Federico Delfino, Paraguay's chief prosecutor for anti-kidnapping efforts, said the attackers stole eight US-made M4 rifles, body armor and the victims' personal belongings.

The president, Horacio Cartes, moved in the early hours, to the area of Horqueta, Concepción department, to accompany and internalize the work done by the Joint Task Force (FTC) under the fight against the EPP criminal group. the head of state was accompanied by the Minister of the Interior, Francisco de Vargas, commander of the Armed Forces, Luis Gonzaga Garcete, the commander of the National Police, Críspulo Sotelo and his top aides. His presence at the site responded to the latest developments in Arroyito, Concepción, where eight soldiers of the Joint Task Force were killed.

Conservative President Horacio Cartes held himself responsible Saturday for the attack and promised “strong results" in the remainder of his term in the war on the communist rebels. “This is the price we pay for our attempt to end (the EPP)," said Cartes, according to local media, calling the attack a “violent and cowardly" act. “Sooner or later this story has one end, we will find it and make them pay for all this pain." The Cartes administration has called the EPP a “criminal and terrorist structure."

The small guerrilla style group that calls itself the Army of the Paraguayan People operates in the northern part of the Department of San Pedro, and the southern part of the Department of Concepción. The Departments of San Pedro and Caaguazu are the two regions of greatest anti-government campesino activity. There have been some high-profile kidnappings in the interior of the country, including in these departments. These are believed to be related to the EEP activities. They usually target locals based on their wealth and willingness to pay ransoms, as well as police and landowners.

The Paraguayan People’s Army and the Armed Peasant Association (ACA) guerilla movements have killed security forces and civilians, committed robberies, kidnapped both civilians and security forces, and recruited children and adolescents. Authorities investigated EPP and ACA attacks, and prosecuted and convicted some members. The EPP claims to be a revolutionary group whose primary objective is to fight for the rights of campesinos; its real goal appears to be essentially financial enrichment.

The Paraguayan People’s Army is an insurgent movement that emerged from the Free Fatherland Party (PPL). The PPL formed its armed wing in the mid-1990s. The PPL needed to strengthen its political wing so that the armed and political wings would better complement each other. Some sources report the EPP was established sometime after 2000 [some say it was formed around 2001, with origins dating back to the 1990s, while others report 2006 or 2008. The EPP is a leftist armed group that professes to seek change on behalf of the poor of Paraguay. The EPP has said it holds a Marxist ideology and aims to overthrow the Paraguayan government.

The EPP is thought to have no more than two or three dozen armed members, and has been behind only a few crimes. But these have been newsworthy. Paraguayan authorities are convinced the EPP was definitely not as large as the 300 members alleged in some reports. The rural areas of the Concepcion/San Pedro border area (such as Tacuati) and the hilly areas of Paraguari Department as the two most troubling areas for these types of security threats. Sporadic EPP action has been centered in the San Pedro and Concepcion Departments with a minor event occurring every three to six months.

The leftist Free Fatherland Party (Partido Patria Libre, or PPL) was outlawed for advocating the violent overthrow of the government after its two most prominent members, Juan Arrom and Anuncio Marti, were implicated in the 2001 kidnapping of Maria Edith DiBernardi. Arrom and Marti were later granted political asylum in Brazil based on allegations that they were tortured by police while in custody.

The key members of the now-defunct Free Fatherland Party (PPL) appear to form the core group of current EPP members. It operates in the country's northern regions and is known for its high-profile kidnappings. Officials say it had ties to Colombia's FARC, and s reportedly sheltered by peasant groups, drug traffickers and corrupt police (including some large land holders in San Pedro).

On 21 September 2004, members of the Patria Libre Party (PPL) kidnapped former President Raul Cubas' 31-year-old daughter, Cecilia Cubas. The PPL Martinez faction perpetrated the Cubas kidnapping "to recover money from those who had stolen it from the people." Their plan was to demand an initial USD 300,000 as "punishment," and then negotiate a ransom of USD 3 million - 5 million. The investigation got off to a slow start, in large part because the Cubas family initially rejected offers of official assistance with the ransom negotiations, but also because Paraguayan authorities were disorganized and slow to pursue several important leads. When negotiations with the Cubas family faltered, Comandante Santiago [possibly with FARC] recommended that the group kill Ms. Cubas, and then left Paraguay. They subsequently murdered Cecilia Cubas, whose body was discovered in February 2005. Prosecutors investigated reports that six FARC members entered Paraguay by way of Bolivia to assist with the Cubas kidnapping.

A government raid of an EPP camp in August 2009 revealed a lot about the organization and seemed to indicate that the group was small, weak, and was not well financed or trained. A target list of possible future kidnap victims included the names of local authorities and businessmen. There were also documented plans for an attack in Asuncion to free jailed former PPL members.

Former Free Fatherland Party (PPL) members announced 17 March 2008 the existence of the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP), an armed revolutionary group operating in Concepcion Department. Their comments followed a 12 March 2008 incident in which the EPP claimed responsibility for vandalizing a ranch in Concepcion. PPL members claimed that former PPL members formed the group in February 2006 to fight government injustice and end 60-plus years of Colorado rule.

The previously unknown EPP, or Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo, claimed responsibility for vandalizing 12 March 2008 over USD 400,000 in farm equipment owned by Brazilian ranch owner Nabor Both in Horqueta, Concepcion Department. The perpetrators left a pamphlet with the inscription, "Paraguayan People's Army, German Aguayo Command -- land to the campesinos -- whoever kills with agrotoxins will pay in this manner." A police report indicated that four or five people were involved. Police have not named any suspects in connection with the case.

Carmen Villalba, who is serving a 18-year prison sentence at Good Shepherd Women's Prison for kidnapping, stated 17 March 2008 that the EPP would "fight fire with fire" and would use violence against the Colorado government and its oligarchy (Paraguay's 400 wealthiest families), who she claimed have abused campesinos during their 61 years in power. She cited Article 138 of the 1992 Constitution, which permits "the citizenry to resist all usurpers (of justice) by all means at their disposal," as a basis for the EPP's militant campaign.

Cristobal Olazar, former PPL secretary general, told the newspaper Ultima Hora March 17 that the EPP was created in February 2006 following a police attack on campesinos in Puentesino, Concepcion. Sensitive reporting indicated that the PPL attacked a police station in Puentesino around the same time, in which a police officer was killed. It was unclear if the events were directly related. Olazar claimed that the EPP is led by former PPL members Osmar Martinez, Carmen Villalba, Osvaldo Villalba, Magna Meza, and Manuel Cristaldo Mieres.

Police killed German Aguayo in the 2003 raid in which Carmen Villalba was captured. Martinez was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his involvement in the Cubas case. Osvaldo Villalba, Meza, and Mieres remained suspects at large for the 2004 kidnapping and 2005 killing of Cecilia Cubas, daughter of former President Raul Cubas.

The EPP appeared to represent the early beginnings of a reincarnated PPL, although all signs points to a very small (and initially fairly inactive) membership. Its main goal seemed to be organization of an armed insurrection if the Colorados fail to cede power in the event of an opposition victory in April 2008. While they may be the EPP's targets, the Colorados also benefited from allegations that presidential candidate Fernando Lugo had ties to the PPL/EPP.

Prominent rancher Luis Alberto Lindstron, was kidnapped in July 2008 and later released. Lindstron was kidnapped in Concepcion Department; he was released 42 days later after his family paid a USD 300,000 ransom.

Armed individuals claiming to be members of the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP) attacked a small military outpost in San Pedro Department around midnight 31 December 2008, stealing weapons and burning it to the ground. The attackers doused the small building with cans of gasoline and burned it to the ground. Although conflicting reports could not confirm whether shots were fired during the attack, confidential sources stated that the duty officer surrendered peacefully, and no one was injured.

The Paraguayan government responded January 1 with police roadblocks and a decision to send January 2 members of the military's US-trained Joint Rapid Response Unit to conduct door-to-door searches. After the Paraguayan People's Army 31 December 2008 attack on an Army outpost in Tacuati, San Pedro Department, the military deployed 35 members of the Military's Joint Rapid Response Detachment (DCEI) to Tacuati to search for EPP suspects. Paraguayan security forces did not initially apprehend any suspects in the Tacuati attack; additional military and police units, however, were sent into the area in the hopes of cornering or flushing out those involved.

President Fernando Lugo estimated in January 2009 that the EPP was not really a direct security threat to the nation but rather were stirring up trouble, scaring off legitimate investors, and providing an opportunity for many quarters to criticize the government -- and ultimately to trip him up.

On 15 October 2009 at approximately 1930 hours, a group of 14 heavily armed people wearing camouflage entered well-known rancher Fidel Zavala's cattle ranch in the state of Concepcion, captured Zavala, and fled using Zavala's own vehicle. Only one of the kidnappers covered his face, prompting public speculation that a foreign element was among the group, or that he was a former ranch employee. The kidnappers told ranch workers that they would demand $5 million for his release and that they were from the Paraguayan People's Army. The initial press reporting was all about the President's and his government's ineffectiveness, instead of focusing on Mr. Zavala's release. The Zavala family was very disturbed that the personal political agendas were very risky and privately called for toning down the attacks. Zavala wss held for 94 days, and released only once a ransom was paid.

Criticism of the government for the worsening security climate had increased as kidnappings, murders, and robberies continue to make monthly headlines. Emblematic of this problem is the Zavala family's refusal to place any trust or confidence in the PNP. This is due to the police's alleged involvement in a number of high-profile murder and narcotics cases. In fact, the Minister of Interior was quoted as saying, "the police is full of mafias."

To combat the EPP, Asuncion created a Joint Task Force (JTF) in 2013. In March 2016 the Paraguayan military announced that Special Forces units would be rotated every three months, instead of every month, from deployments battling the Paraguayan People's Army. The intent qs to maintain experienced commandos on frontlines to better utilitze their combat experience. As of 01 October 2015, a total of 829 personnel from the Joint Task Force (FTC), consisting of personnel from the armed forces, National Police, and the National Anti-narcotics Secretariat (SENAD), were deployed to the departments of Concepcion, San Pedro, and Amambay.

The EPP was involved in the April 2014 kidnapping-for-ransom of 16-year old Arlan Fick, who was taken from his family’s Concepcion home and held for eight months before being released. The EPP is also believed to be responsible for the July 2014 kidnapping of police officer Edelio Morinigo. In August, the EPP claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a Mennonite in San Pedro department for a ransom of US$500,000. The farmer’s family paid the ransom in November, and in December 2014 the EPP released 16-year-old Arlan Fick. The EPP had demanded the family pay a ransom of $500,000 and distribute an equal amount of food and supplies to nearby communities.

On 28 January 2015, the EPP kidnapped, tortured, and killed Robert Natto and his wife Erika Reiser on their ranch near Yby Yau, Concepcion Department. According to reports, the EPP was planning to demand a ransom payment for the German couple before they killed them during a firefight with security forces. While the EPP claimed security forces shot the couple during the encounter, autopsies indicated they had died execution style. On 18 December 2015, in Kurusu de Hierro, Concepcion, the Joint Task Force (FTC) killed alleged EPP member Julian Ojeda Espinola while he was hunting at night. Family members denied Espinola had any links with the EPP and stated they would file complaints to human rights bodies.

On 08 August 2015, the EPP kidnapped Abraham Fehr, a Paraguayan-Mexican dual national farmer from Tacuati, San Pedro. According to reports, the EPP kidnapped Fehr and his employees directly from his property. They released the employees shortly after the abduction but kept Fehr captive. The EPP initially demanded $500,000 for Fehr’s release, but his family publicly stated they were unable to comply with this demand. Days later the EPP lowered their demand to $20,000. On October 13, the Interior Ministry reported that Fehr was alive, but his whereabouts and conditions were unknown at the end of 2015. Relatives of Mennonite settler, Abraham Fehr, said 08 August 2016 that on the first anniversary of his kidnapping, they still retained hope that the captors to contact them to see what can be done so as to secure his release.



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