The Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army) is beginning to become a household name. For the moment it has focused its operations around kidnapping wealthy Paraguayans and demanding ransom for their return, One of the latest victims was Fidel Zavala, who was captive for 94 days and finally freed on January 17. Nevertheless, as the history of guerrilla movements seems to show, there is, unfortunately, ample room for “growth,” when it comes to their potential activities.
For the moment, the EPP presents itself as an obscure guerrilla movement. According to Jane’s Defense, its origins date to 1992, when a group of trainee priests – expelled from a Catholic seminary for their radical political views – established the Movimiento Monseñor Romero, with the aim of plotting a socialist revolution. For the Paraguayan daily ABC, the EPP is a group made up of criminals accused of murdering police officials and attacking police and military outposts. According to the news service, the EPP was created in 2005 after the murder of Cecilia Cubas (daughter of former president Raul Cubas). For their part, the EPP argues that it is made up of peasant communities, armed to fight and states that it is not a group of criminals or affiliated with criminal organizations like the Colombian FARC, contrary to what Asuncion claims.
According to Carmen Villalba, a self-declared spokeswoman of the EPP, has stated that the group’s support comes from “del pueblo paraguayo, del sector popular, de gente que eternamente fue burlada, discriminada, pisoteada.” (“of the Paraguayan people, the people who eternally feel that it has been made fun of, discriminated against and stepped on”). According to reports, the EPP is influenced by “Che” Guevara and Regis Debray, as well as national heroes like the Mariscal Francisco Solano lopez.
Then again, even though the EPP seems to be Marxist-leninist in ideology, prominent individuals like Luis Casabianca (leader of the Paraguayan Communist Party) have condemned the Zavala kidnapping. The Paraguayan has stated that the EPP “no es revolucionario, sino terrorista” (“isn’t revolutionary, it’s terrorist”). Indeed, it is interesting that Casabianca, who in the 1960s was part of the guerrilla group called the Frente Unido de Liberación Nacional (Fulna), today stands apart from the EPP.
Discussions will certainly go on to assess whether the EPP is a criminal band or a real guerrilla group with an ideology, born from the extreme poverty that Paraguay is known for, particularly in the northeastern areas of San Pedro and Concepcion. If it proves to be the latter, the EPP would represent a fascinating case as it would arguably be the first ideologically-oriented guerrilla movement that has emerged in the region since the end of the Cold War and the guerrilla/terrorist groups of the 1980s (the Mexican EPR could be an arguable exception).
The future of the EPP will depend on how President Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop, chooses to act. Will the president allow for a military offensive, including search-and-destroy missions, against the EPP, should its activities continue? Or will Lugo’s religious background affect his decisions? In January, six peasant leaders were detained by the country’s security forces, accused of being EPP members and involved in the 2008 Luis Alberto Lindstrom kidnapping, while human rights activists claimed that there is no concrete evidence against them.