Paraguayan Criminal Group Accused of Recruiting Minors and Kidnapping
By Andréa Barretto/Diálogo October 16, 2020
The Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP, in Spanish) criminal group has been carrying out a series of crimes, mainly in the Northern region of the country. The small group was created in 2008, but some of its current members have been conducting clandestine and criminal activities since the 1990s, representing the armed branch of the far-left political party, Patria Libre.
The EPP is accused of having connections with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish). “They were inspired by the FARC, trained by the FARC, and now they are engaged in narcotrafficking activities and recruiting children and teenagers,” said a government source to BBC Brasil.
Like the FARC, the EPP typically promotes videos showing people dressed as soldiers, with their faces partially covered, and displaying weapons. One of these videos from early September 2020 shows minors holding heavy weaponry. According to Paraguayan security forces, they have identified 11 minors participating in the EPP’s activities, from 17-year-old teenagers to children as young as 11 years old.
In 2013, the Paraguayan government created the Joint Task Force (JTF), a special team comprised of police officers and service members to combat the EPP. After new videos circulated, they created a committee to investigate the participation of minors with the criminal group. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Paraguayan government “will double their efforts to combat all criminal organizations tied to the exploitation and use of children and teenagers in illegal and criminal activities.”
Regarding involvement with narcotrafficking activities, the Paraguayan National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD, in Spanish) said that the EPP maintains a relationship with the largest Brazilian criminal faction, the First Capital Command (PCC, in Portuguese). According to SENAD’s investigations, which surfaced in September, PCC narcotraffickers pay EPP members in exchange for protecting marijuana crops in the Northern region of Paraguay, in addition to ensuring security along routes for drugs and weapons bound for Brazil.
Kidnapping as a form of pressure
On September 9, the EPP kidnapped former Vice President of Paraguay Óscar Denis and his employee Adelio Mendoza. Armed men stopped the former vice president as he drove in the state of Concepción, some 400 kilometers from the Paraguayan capital, Asunción. This crime adds to dozens of other kidnappings the criminal group has carried out.
The previous week, on September 2, the EPP was targeted by a JTF operation, which dismantled one of the main EPP camps close to the area where the former vice president was kidnapped. Directly following the operation, JTC forces found the bodies of two 11-year-old girls at the site of the operation. An investigation is underway to determine when and by whom the girls were killed, and whether they were EPP child soldiers or child victims.