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The EPP, the Paraguayan guerrilla group that grew out of political carelessness

The Paraguayan People's Army, which emerged in 2008, has created a conflict that has already claimed around 100 lives.

The Paraguayan People's Army, which emerged in 2008, has created a conflict that has already claimed around 100 lives.

Marxist guerrillas in Latin America are a thing of the past. This conviction led to an underestimation of the emergence in 2008 of the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP), which since then has carried out a hundred violent actions, especially in rural areas of the northeast of the country. The conflict has claimed a hundred dead and wounded; there have also been kidnappings of public figures, which have given the EPP special media coverage. The creation of a controversial special military-police corps has failed to achieve the goal goal of putting an end to the group, leading to criticism of the government's management of the problem.

article / Eduardo Villa Corta

The Paraguayan People's Army (EPP) was considered from the outset to be a small group of radicals who would have little to do. However, in barely ten years it has become an organisation capable of confronting the Paraguayan state: it has carried out a hundred terrorist actions, including a dozen kidnappings, causing some sixty deaths and a hundred wounded.

EPP zones of influence (light red) and places where there has been instructions of group (dark red) [Mikelelgediento] [Mikelelgediento].

EPP zones of influence (light red) and places where there has been instructions of group (dark red) [Mikelelgediento] [Mikelelgediento].

With a issue of activists ranging from thirty in its hard core to two hundred if its support networks are taken into account, the EPP has been a problem for the government for several years, which has been unable to dismantle it: 30 militants have died in confrontations with the forces of law and order and a hundred have been arrested, but the image offered by the authorities is one of ineffectiveness. The Paraguayan government's negative credit also includes the fact that it did not take seriously the threat posed by the creation of group and its first actions.

The EPP was officially formed on 1 March 2008. Although its founders and main leaders had already planned the creation of group prior to this date, its roots go back to 1992 and the Free Fatherland Party, as documented by researcher Jeremy McDermott. The EPP presents itself as an armed group against the "bourgeois liberal" parliamentary system, but above all it is a Marxist movement that promotes the uprising of Paraguay's peasantry, hence its attempts to take root in the rural north-east of the country.

The 2008 presidential victory of Fernando Lugo at the head of a left-wing alliance, ending six decades of political dominance by the Colorado Party, may have encouraged the formation of the EPP, which then felt justified in its actions with Lugo's removal in 2012 through a controversial impeachment trial in parliament that was labelled by Lugo's supporters as a coup d'état.

The first EPP attack, on 16 March 2008, consisted of the burning of agricultural machinery at department de Concepción. The next was in December of the same year, with an attack on a barracks in Tacuatí, in the department of San Pedro. Since then, their movements have focused especially between the south of the first of these Departments and the north of the second.

Despite being a more or less delimited area, dismantling the EPP is not easy because the EPP's modus operandi makes its movements unpredictable. This is because, as McDermott explains, group does not act like other insurgent organisations, such as the FARC. The core of the EPP is made up of around thirty fighters full-time, most of whom have family ties. They are led by the ringleaders Alcides Oviedo and his wife Carmen Villalba, who are in prison; one of the leaders on the ground is Oswaldo Villalba. In addition, there are some fifty activists part-time, a logistical network that could number up to two hundred people and local sympathisers who, without being very involved in the cause, provide information on search operations by the security forces. The group suffered in 2014 the split of one of its columns, which was renamed association Campesina Armada (ACA) and in 2018, from agreement with the authorities, the EPP split into two groups to face pressure from the security forces.

The aforementioned figures speak of a small group , far from the 8,000 members that the FARC had in 2016 at the time of its demobilisation, or the 4,000 members that the ELN currently has in Colombia, or the 3,000 that were attributed to the Chilean Frente Patriótico Manuel Rodríguez. group Although the EPP bears more resemblance to the latter, its operational cessation in 1999 left the FARC as the main training ground for those who would later create the EPP, as evidenced by the documentation found in the computer of FARC leader Raúl Reyes and the kidnapping of businesswoman Cecilia Cubas, daughter of a former Paraguayan president, at the end of 2004.

This action marked what has been a line of action of the EPP. Since 2008, in addition to extortion and assaults in order to finance itself, the group has carried out kidnappings in order to achieve greater media impact. order These have been carried out against relatives of former presidents of the country or high-level political figures profile , for whose release ransoms in excess of five million dollars have been paid, although lower figures have been agreed in negotiations. It is usually agreed that submit part of the money will be in cash and part in foodstuffs for the villages around the EPP's area of operations.

The group has also carried out extortions and assaults in those areas where it operates, demanding "revolutionary taxes" from landowners and cattle ranchers, from whom they also steal cattle and food to meet the organisation's daily sustenance needs.

Other notable actions carried out by the EPP are bomb attacks. For example, there was an attack against the Supreme Court of Justice in Asunción at the beginning of the operations of group. A more recent attack was perpetrated on 27 August 2016 against a military vehicle in the eastern area of Concepción: the explosives went off as the convoy passed by and then the terrorists liquidated the survivors with firearms; eight soldiers were killed in the attack. According to the authorities, this event marked a leap in the EPP's operations, from a group seeking economic resources to an organisation with greater operational and military capacity.

To confront the EPP, President Horacio Cartes created the Joint Task Force (FTC) in 2013 in response to evidence that police action was not effective, in part because of possible internal corruption. The JTF is composed of members of the Armed Forces, the National Police and the National Anti-Drugs administrative office , under the command of a military officer and reporting directly to the president. The more expeditious nature of this unit has generated some controversy in the social and political discussion .

The EPP's most recent operation was the kidnapping of former Paraguayan vice-president Óscar Denis on 9 September 2020. For the release of Denis, leader of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party and active participant in Lugo's impeachment, the terrorists demand the release of their leaders, Alcides Oviedo and Carmen Villalba, as well as the submission of food for the rural areas where they operate. The organisation's deadline expired a few days later without the government heeding their request. There have been citizen mobilisations demanding Denis' release and the status is being followed in the country with concern, putting President Mario Abdo Benítez in a tight spot.

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