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LatinNews Daily Report - 26 June 2013

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Military deployed against the EPP again

The government of President Federico Franco has ordered the army into the field in the northern department of San Pedro to track down the guerrillas of the Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (EPP). The decision was taken on 31 May, hours after the murder of rancher Luis Lindstron, supposedly by the EPP. The following day Interior Minister Carmelo Caballero announced the arrest of 18 people suspected of being part of the EPP’s logistical apparatus.

Lindstron had been kidnapped by the EPP in July 2008 and was released two months later after the payment of US$130,000 ransom. Caballero admitted that Lindstron had been let down by the government, as he was not provided with the necessary protection. He added that the upper echelons of the police in San Pedro had been replaced as a result of this.

Some officials ventured that the killing of Lindstron might have been a reprisal for the arrest in Kurusú de Hierro, Concepción (adjacent to San Pedro), also on 31 May, of Alcides Godoy Romero, suspected of being a member of the EPP. The timing renders this implausible. On the other hand, the arrests announced by Caballero may have been linked to the investigation that led to the capture of Godoy. The police in Concepción say that Godoy is a relatively new member of the EPP, as is his younger brother (now being sought), and that both are part of a recruiting drive by the insurgent group. The public ministry predicted that more arrests would follow.

Caballero said that the police needed better training to fight the EPP, given the guerrillas have been trained in Colombia. This, he noted, had emerged from documents seized in police raids. Along with the official reports of an EPP drive to recruit ‘new soldiers’, there also appears to be a shift away from playing down the group’s importance by the authorities.

Retired army General Carlos Liseras, the former head of the supreme military court, told the local media on 4 June that the EPP “has infiltrated everything, and has even reached the highest spheres of the republic; their head is not in San Pedro or Concepción — it is on this side ”. Asked for clarification, Liseras responded that everyone from government officials to military personnel should be viewed with suspicion. He added, “Nobody knows how many they are; they are recruiting people who are not even 18”. In his view the military have the necessary skills to defeat the EPP, but that for some reason successive governments had not made full use of this. Liseras went on to say that a defeat of the EPP’s military arm would not be enough, because there would still be surviving “ideological and logistical arms”.

Liseras made headlines back in 2011 when he stated that “a first phase of Bolivarian infiltration of [Paraguay’s] garrisons is being carried out vigorously”.

The Catholic Bishop of Concepción, Zacarías Ortiz, said on 5 June that his priests in rural areas had arrived at the conclusion that the local police were colluding with the EPP. “In many places”, he said, “our priests verified that those people [the EPP] were on the verge of being captured, but that the police had got in the way, which implies that in some way the police are protecting them”. Bishop Ortiz said that the EPP has a camp where it indoctrinates youths of 14 to 16 as a prelude to recruiting them.

Ortiz also claimed that the EPP had not been defeated because the government had underestimated their strength. “President [Fernando] Lugo [2008-2012] himself told me that they were an insignificant group of five or six”, he said. More recently police sources put the strength of the group at about 30.