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Column 100515 Brewer

Monday, October 5, 2015

Paraguayan Criminals and Guerrillas are Multinational Threats

By Jerry Brewer

In South America, the Republic of Paraguay – that has a constitutional republic form of government – is slightly smaller than California in the U.S., and it borders the Southern Cone nations of Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil.

Yet today, the small nation of less than 7 million people is being critically challenged by a growing criminal insurrection that has possibly been nurtured and led by rogue leftist revolutionaries for a decade or more.

In November 2013, after a number of attacks and ambushes on isolated police and military posts by the so-called Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), a communist guerrilla movement, Interior Minister Francisco de Vargas announced, “This is already a declared war against the republic.”

Ironically, Minister Francisco de Vargas would speak again on July 17 of this year at a news conference, following the death of three police officers. The police officers were shot while traveling in a vehicle in San Pedro department, “in an attack which has been attributed to the Paraguayan EPP.”

The EPP remains a capable enemy of the state, with ruthless intentions by placing bombs under police vehicles, kidnapping, and murder with impunity, among other violent crimes against the homeland.

The weaponry of the EPP has been showcased as far back as July 2003, when police investigating a farm in San Pedro, where they were met by gunfire, found an arsenal that included “rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, machine guns, automatic rifles, grenades, explosives, and ammunition.”

Analysis of the crime scene revealed that the farm had been used as a guerrilla training camp. Other than the military-grade weapons and munitions, police found uniforms, radios, bulletproof vests, satellite telephones, and mobile phones.

The criminal insurgency within Paraguay, however, has much more than a guerrilla and revolutionary-style agenda.

Paraguay is a major producer of illicit cannabis, most or all of which is consumed in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. As well, it is a key transshipment country for Andean cocaine headed for Brazil, other Southern Cone markets, and Europe, this thanks to weak border controls and extensive corruption. All of which is exacerbated by money-laundering activities, especially in the Tri-Border area, due to weak anti-money-laundering laws and poor enforcement.

These unique challenges to police and the military, who are faced with guerrilla and terrorist-like insurgents, as well as traditional and transnational organized criminals and gangs, quickly define any inability or weakness by the state to interdict and protect life and property. 

The border area city of Pedro Juan Caballero is 600 kilometers north of Asuncion, near Ponta Pora, one of the major urban centers in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The border there stretches some 600 kilometers, from east to west, without any significant policing, customs or military controls. Luis Rojas, director of the state National Anti-Drug Secretariat, reported that there are more than 100 drug gangs, made up of Paraguayans and Brazilians, “dedicated to the illegal trafficking of marijuana produced in Paraguay and the cocaine that reaches from Bolivia, Peru and Colombia.”

There have been tensions between police and the Paraguayan military as to their separate and coordinated roles in interdiction, as well as concerns as to the available resources and specialized training that is lacking – and much needed. Counter-insurgency training, criminal/death investigations, crime scene processing, intelligence analysis and informant recruitment, as well as counter-intelligence to fight corruption, are urgently needed, among other tactical and covert strategies. The military must be the primary enforcers against the EPP.

Paraguay’s problems have been exacerbated in the past by Venezuela’s late president Hugo Chavez interfering in national politics. On August 3, 2012 the president of the Paraguayan Congress, Jorge Oviedo, accused a brother of Chavez of offering a congressman a US$100,000 bribe in order to overcome Paraguayan opposition to Venezuela’s entry into Mercosur.

The new government of Paraguay subsequently ordered home its ambassador to Venezuela, citing “the grave evidence of intervention by Venezuelan officials in the internal affairs of Paraguay.”  Venezuela’s ambassador had left Paraguay a week earlier, when he was called home for consultations by Chavez amid accusations that Venezuela was “preparing a coup.”

Making matters worse, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have known links to Paraguayans and the EPP. In February 2014, Paraguay asked, via Interpol, for the capture of two FARC members and four of the EPP for a kidnapping and murder. At least one key FARC leader, Orley Jurado Palomino, is known to have gone to Paraguay to “provide training, advice and operational leadership to the EPP.” 

The FARC was also linked to “financial jobs” and training through Colombian officials who found evidence in files seized from the camp of senior FARC commander Raul Reyes, who was killed in an airstrike in Ecuador in March 2008. Hugo Chavez was also linked to FARC as a result of that raid.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at www.cjiausa.org.

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