Michael Baney, Allan & Associates
Michael Baney is a Washington, DC-based political and security risk consultant specialising in Latin America. Michael works at Allan & Associates, a security risk management agency that provides a wide range of protective services from travel risk assessments to crisis management response. He writes for A2 Global, Allan & Associates’ risk information service.
Paraguay: Insurgent Group Increases Attacks
Over the past months, the Paraguayan People’s Army (Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo or EPP), a guerrilla organisation with an area of operations in the Paraguayan departments of Concepción and San Pedro, has carried out multiple attacks against the agricultural industry and foreigners. The attacks have included sabotage, arson, and kidnapping for ransom. The pattern of attacks, detailed below, indicates that the group has both the means and the desire to present a significant threat to personnel in northern Paraguay.
- On 14 June, a uniformed EPP member fired shots at a man driving a tractor in the district of Tacuatí. The shooting occurred in the same location where EPP members had kidnapped a farmworker the year prior.
- On 27 June, several armed men dressed in uniforms appeared in a road in a rural area of Concepción and blocked the passage of a vehicle associated with a local ranch. When the driver did not immediately stop, the men fired into the engine of the vehicle. While commandeering the truck, they asked for the owner of a local farm, but upon realizing that he was not among those who were in the stopped truck, the militants fled. The assailants were most likely EPP members attempting to kidnap the man for whom they were asking.
- In early July, an irrigation system in Colonia Río Verde was found riddled with 5.56 calibre, 7.62 calibre, and 9mm rounds, matching the EPP’s eclectic mix of firearms. Two threatening EPP-signed flyers were found near the site of the destroyed system.
- In late July, the EPP carried out a major attack in Santa Rosa del Aguaray, San Pedro Department. The group seized two farming communities, set fire to a tractor and a truck loaded with maize, and kidnapped Frank Wiebe Boschman, a 17-year-old member of the Mennonite religious community. The EPP then briefly abducted others who were let go after being given a statement demanding that the EPP be paid US $700,000 in exchange for Wiebe Boschman’s release.
Potential targets of EPP violence
The EPP puts a great deal of emphasis on environmental issues, and has issued a set of agricultural “laws” against deforestation, altering the course of and overusing streams and rivers, and “exploiting the earth”, which it defines as cultivating crops and raising livestock within 1 kilometre of any waterway or lagoon. Days after kidnapping Frank Wiebe Boschman, the group contacted his father, a farmer, and forced him to read a statement on television claiming that his son had been taken as punishment for violating these “revolutionary laws” regarding the environment. Any business traveller associated with the agricultural industry is therefore likely to be considered a target by the EPP.
Unusual for a leftist Latin American guerrilla group, the EPP has also displayed a high level of religious bigotry and xenophobia: almost all of its recent victims have been Mennonites, members of a small Protestant religious community, and the EPP refers to Mennonites as “foreigners”. Mennonites frequently have German-sounding names, and the EPP cannot be trusted to distinguish anyone with a non-Spanish name from the community it is targeting, raising a serious risk to foreigners in the area.
With perhaps no more than 50 fighters, the EPP is small, and it is has carried out very few operations outside of Concepción and San Pedro. However, Paraguay’s corrupt police force and military have been unable, and perhaps unwilling, to stop the EPP from increasing the tempo and seriousness of its operations. Should the EPP begin carrying out kidnappings in other parts of the country, it could quickly pose a threat to all foreign personnel in Paraguay. The area in which the EPP is already operating, a major marijuana production hub, likely gives the EPP access to money and weapons through drug trafficking activities. The group has links to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), giving it not only a partner in drug trafficking, but also a source of training and indoctrination on kidnapping operations, as the FARC has long seen long-term and high-ransom kidnappings as a legitimate source of funding its revolution against the state.
Further adding to the risk, the EPP has a notably low regard for the lives of those it kidnaps. In 2005, a leftist group that would later split and become the EPP kidnapped the daughter of a former Paraguayan president, demanding US $5 million but later negotiating the ransom down. After receiving a payment, the kidnappers broke off contact with negotiators, and months later the hostage’s body was found. Likewise, in early 2015, the EPP murdered two German farmworkers who were most likely killed once they began resisting a kidnapping attempt.
The willingness of the EPP to conduct kidnappings and armed attacks, the xenophobia and brutality displayed by the group, and the inept response by the security forces to growing militancy combine to create a serious risk to travellers in Concepción and San Pedro and a moderate risk through the rest of the country. Business travellers should consult with security experts on precautions to mitigate the risk posed by the group.
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