The Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army, or EPP) has now become a household name in Paraguay. It is a guerrilla army fighting against the wealthy classes who displace and control resources that could be used by campesinos and indigenous people in the country.
For the moment, it has focused its field of operations on kidnapping wealthy Paraguayans, and attacking Paraguay’s security forces. One of the most prominent victims of the EPP has been Fidel Zavala, who was held captive for 94 days until he was finally freed on January 17, 2010.
The ascent of the EPP has raised the questions of what kind of counterinsurgency strategy Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo might carry out. Lugo has deployed over 2,000 troops to the northern parts of the country to crack down on the EPP. This has created a rift with Paraguayan society which rejects military incurions, especially after a number of recent military-backed dictatorships that were known for their brutalilty.
The EPP – A Brief Synopsis
The origins of the EPP date back to 1992 when a group of trainee priests, who had been expelled from a Catholic seminary for their radical political views, established the Movimiento Monseñor Romero with the aim of a socialist revolution. Currently, the EPP is an armed group made up of peasant communities. The EPP has had success murdering police officials and attacking police and military outposts.
Between 2010 and 2011 the EPP appears to have increased the boldness of its operations. On April 21, 2010, there was a shootout between EPP members and security forces in Arroyito in the province of Concepción. One policeman and three private guards were killed, which brought about the calling of a “state of exception” and major military deployment.
The EPP has fought against the expansion of wealthy farmers from Brazil in the North of the country. In mid-July 2011, the EPP claimed ownership of an attack on a farm known as “La Amanda,” in as the department of Concepción, close to the border with Brazil, in which farm machinery was destroyed.
The EPP has popular support in Northern Paraguay. Over time the EPP has increased and improved the nature of its operations. Originally, the EPP carried out bank robberies, but they proved to be dangerous and unprofitable. In November 2001, the clandestine organization carried out its first successful kidnapping, that of María Edith de Debernardi. Publicly, USD 1 million ransom was reportedly paid for her release, although rumors are that the amount was much greater. Kidnappings continued after that, like that of Cecilia Cubas; it is believed that the Cubas family paid USD 300,000 in ransom. Regarding armament, the group’s modus operandi to secure weapons is to steal whatever its members can obtain from their attacks against security installations.
Carmen Villalba, a spokeswoman of the EPP, has stated that the group’s support comes from “the Paraguayan people, the people who eternally feel that they have been ridiculed, discriminated against and stepped on”. The EPP has been influenced by Che Guevara and Régis Debray, as well as national heroes like the Mariscal Francisco Solano López.
President Lugo was elected on a fairly populist platform, his power built on a national coalition of left-wing and non-leftwing parties. His election was part of a wave of populist governments that came to power in many South American states.
Lugo’s election divided the peasant movement and support for EPP. Some wanted to form a single, unified and disciplined movement with single line of action, an option favored and pushed by the members of the EPP and their supporters. Others wanted to form a loose political coalition around the figure of Lugo, the alternative that ended up prevailing.
The more left-wing members of the EPP saw Lugo’s alliance with non-leftist, non-populist groups as a betrayal of their goals. In its communiqués, the EPP condemned the “treacherous pretend socialists” for making alliances with “pro-imperialists” and “pro-oligarchy” factions. On September 21, 2010, President Lugo received a threatening letter from the EPP, calling him a “walking cadaver” and has termed Minister of the Interior Rafael Filizzola and his wife, Congresswoman Desire Masi, as “oligarch bullies” and “money wasters.”
In August 2014 EPP members Albino Larrea and Alfredo Jara Larrea formed a splinter faction known as ACA. The ACA was rendered defunct by 2016 after the remainder of its militants were killed by the government in 2015. An additional EPP splinter faction formed called Ejército de Mariscal López (EML), some of whose members later reconstituted ACA in 2017.
VIdeo Statement by the EPP from 2016:
Interview with EPP spokesperson Carmen Villalba from 2008
CARMEN VILLALBA, FROM HIS PLACE OF RECLUSION, EL BUEN PASTOR, HAS ALREADY DECLARED HIMSELF A SPOKESPERSON OF THE PEOPLE’S REVOLUTIONARY ARMY (ERP), THE GROUP THAT CLAIMED THE BURNING OF AGRICULTURAL MACHINERY IN KURUSÚ DE HIERRO, CONCEPCIÓN, LAST SUNDAY. He maintained that the farmers of the area have nothing to do with the issue. In this interview he spoke about the armed group and its purposes.
-This army, is it the regrouping of the group that you were part of at the time?
-We can’t talk about a regrouping, we are talking about a revolutionary organization, a political-military organization that is now beginning to make military incursions.
-With the support of whom?
-With the support of the Paraguayan people, of the popular sector, of people who have been eternally mocked, discriminated against, trampled upon. It is an organization of national character that cannot be attributed to a specific zone such as San Pedro or Concepción.
-What ideology do you profess?
-We are communists, with Marxist-Leninist principles. We vindicate the ideas, the government project of Dr. Francia, of Marshal Lopez, who are national heroes.
-You referred to President Nicanor Duarte Frutos. Is the struggle against him or against his government?
-I believe that we cannot differentiate things, he is part of the structure, in any case it is focused on him. It is not possible to talk about a person outside the economic and political power that he heads.
-You said that the armed incursions will continue unless the Colorado rulers move away from power. If that does not happen, will you continue with your demands?
-I believe that this is a beginning, what is being done is to take responsibility for the act of justice that has been done in Kurusú de Hierro. The act of justice is for the subjugation, the outrage and the murders that the Brazilian settlers and the cattle ranchers have been committing in the interior. The comrades will see if they will continue to make other interventions.
-The prosecutor Sandra Quiñonez said that this group was led by her brother Osvaldo Villalba and linked them to the FARC. What is true?
-The FARC has absolutely nothing to do with the group. The People’s Revolutionary Army has its origins in our Paraguayan people. They will be looking for a possible connection of our group with the FARC to receive economic support from the United States or Colombia. Sandra Quiñonez is a bitch of the oligarchy, she assumes her role. We assume what we do, while they invent many things, because many of what they say is not true, like the case of Yaguareté Forest, for example, has nothing to do with the group.
-As an active member of the People’s Revolutionary Army, what is your role?
-Yes, as long as they consider me part of it. I am the one in charge of giving my face to the press, a spokesperson, fundamentally in taking for granted their incursion and the act of justice they are carrying out.
-You spoke of an uprising, would that be an armed uprising against this Colorado government?
-And, fundamentally, it is what would be a popular uprising, an uprising of a guerrilla army, revolutionary, is to take up arms.
-Does this group have a candidate of its preference for these elections?
-We do not have a preferred candidate. This army is going to fight the system, the power that today is represented in the Colorado Party, the government of the rich.
-What does Fernando Lugo represent for you?
-We have respect for him, we do not consider him an enemy like the government, the Colorado Party, the oligarchy. There is no relationship between Lugo and the Army, in spite of the fact that they want to involve him with us.
This is a revolutionary organization, a political-military organization that is beginning to make military incursions.
The government is looking for a possible connection of our group with the FARC in order to receive economic support from the United States or Colombia.
AGUAYO WAS KILLED IN SANGUINA CUÉ
The Paraguayan People’s Army or People’s Revolutionary Army is named after a peasant named Germán Aguayo, who was killed in Sanguina Cué, department of San Pedro, where Carmen Villalba was arrested along with her husband Alcides Oviedo Brítez, on July 17, 2003, who were accused of participating in the kidnapping of María Edith Bordón de Debernardi.
Aguayo was with the group and died when he was shot after a shootout between the rebel group and the police.
Carmen Villalba and Oviedo Brítez were wounded when both were about to be shot.
The place where they were was raided and a real arsenal of weapons of war was found.
It is said that this German Aguayo was just a simple bricklayer in the group and that he had no authority, but with his name he was now claimed with this new armed group.
BRAZILIAN, WITH EXTENSIVE SOYBEAN FIELDS
The owner of the Santa Herminia soybean farm, which was visited by members of the People’s Revolutionary Army, Nabort Boht, a Brazilian citizen, owns some 20,000 hectares of land in Concepción, very close to the Kurusú de Hierro peasant settlement, which was initially damaged by the destruction of a Volvo truck, two agricultural tractors, a 2008 combine harvester, a grain seeder, part of a giant warehouse and complete tools and equipment of a farm.
The settler was damaged in about 400 thousand dollars, by the destruction of a Volvo truck, two agricultural tractors, a 2008 harvester, a grain seeder, part of a giant warehouse and complete elements and tools of a mechanical workshop, inputs and seeds, which were totally consumed by the fire caused by six or seven unknown subjects, who from the darkness came to the warehouse of the Estancia Santa Herminia, on Wednesday, at about 23 hours.