ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – The recent arrests of five suspected members of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) show law enforcement agencies are having success in their fight against the nation’s largest terrorist organization.
“[The results we have achieved are] the consequence of sustained efforts by the National Police and Public Ministry,” said Rafael Filizzola this past May, while he was the minister of the Interior before being replaced by Federico Acuña. “We have stressed that these efforts are fundamental to achieving our goal: to get rid of [the EPP].”
Police Inspector Elisa Ledesma Salas, chief of the National Police’s Public Relations Department, said the five arrests occurred this past May in the department of Concepción, 258 miles north of Asunción, and in the city of Lambaré, nine miles east of the capital.
In Concepción, Prudencio Idilio Alfonso, Arístides Barreto Borja, Andreza Medina de Marín and Vicente López Rojas were taken into custody, while Rocío Cardozo was apprehended in Lambaré. The suspects are accused of helping coordinate logistics for the terrorist organization.
“It was a calm [procedure] for the most part,” Ledesma Salas said of the early morning operations. “None of those apprehended in the area of Concepción resisted arrest. There were no shots fired or any violence.”
The operation was carried out by a tactical operations group called León Pirú (Skinny Lion, in Guaraní), with support from officials of the Counter-kidnapping Department, both entities of the National Police.
But law enforcement agents still are searching for other alleged EPP terrorists. The Paraguayan Parliament approved a US$250,000 reward for information that leads to the arrests of alleged EPP leaders Manuel Cristaldo Mieres and Magna Mezas. A US$125,000 reward also has been issued for information that leads to the apprehension of Alejandro Ramos, another alleged EPP leader.
The EPP is accused of committing 27 kidnappings between 2005 and 2009, including the abduction of the daughter of former President Raúl Cubas, Cecilia Cubas, whom the EPP killed in February 2005. The EPP also kidnapped rancher Fidel Zavala in October 2009 before releasing him in January 2010.
In addition to patrolling the department of Concepción to find EPP operatives, law enforcement agents also are focusing their efforts on two areas known for EPP activity: Yasy Kañy in the department of Canindeyú and in Sidepar 3000 in the department of Caaguazú.
“Sidepar 3000 is known to be a bastion of the EPP, and it constitutes a threat to its residents, some of whom support the armed group out of fear of retaliation,” said Pablo Medina, a former professor who works for Paraguayan daily ABC Color under police protection because he receives threats from the EPP. “No one wants to talk there.”
But Edgar Martínez, chief of the Special Operations Forces (FOPE) Unit in Sidepar 3000, said law enforcement officials have made progress in making the community safer.
“[In Sidepar 3000] there are antagonistic groups [for and against the EPP], and currently these tensions have been receding thanks to the police forces,” Martínez said.
Ledesma Salas said the Paraguayan government has made fighting the EPP one of its top priorities.
“National authorities will continue to fight,” she said. “Investigations continue throughout the country, not just in the north. All intelligence efforts are continuing in accordance with the security plan that’s been in place for several months now.”