Paraguayan Senate Gives New President Greater Authority to Deploy Troops

By Dialogo
September 13, 2013

Horacio Cartes, Paraguay newly inaugurated president, entered office Aug. 15 promising to weaken a leftist rebel group known as the Paraguayan Peoples Army [Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo, or EPP].
One week into his mandate, Cartes began fulfilling that promise. On Aug. 22, Paraguay’s Senate modified National Defense Law 1337, granting the president wider powers to deploy troops in a public security role in case of “threats or acts of violence against the legally constituted authorities.”
The law effectively gives Cartes leeway “to deal with any form of internal and external aggression that endangers the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the country.”
That includes using the armed forces in a policing role without the need to declare a state of emergency. Prior to that, congressional approval had been required for such a deployment.
The Senate approved the amendment with 29 votes in favor, 11 against and five absentions. The ruling Colorado Party — which has largely dominated Paraguayan politics for decades — supported the modification, as did the largest opposition party Authentic Radical Liberation Party [Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico] and the National Union of Ethical Citizens [Unión Nacional de Ciudadanos Éticos].
Amendment’s passage follows EPP attack in Tacuatí
The reform to Law 1337 came four days after EPP militants killed five people, including one police officer, and set several vehicles on fire at a farm in Tacuatí, in the department of San Pedro, about 400 kilometers north of Asunción. Interior Minister Fernando de Vargas said the uptick in attacks in the days after Cartes took office was in response to the warning he gave to the EPP in his inauguration address.
“This is a challenge to the government of Cartes, but we must not make the mistake of simply reacting,” de Vargas said in an Aug. 19 interview with Paraguay’s 780 AM radio news. He said the EPP “wanted to create chaos and anarchy against the government's strong will to end organized crime and terrorism.”
De Vargas framed the decision to use the armed forces to confront the EPP as a necessity in light of the limited capacity of Paraguay’s national police.
“It’s clear that the police cannot do it alone,” Vargas said in an Aug. 23 press conference at National Police Headquarters in Asunción. “We have some regions with a very small police presence and the costs of having police in these areas is very high.”
SENAD: Guerrillas protect drug traffickers from Peru, Bolivia
De Vargas said the government believed the use of the armed forces could provide “a definitive solution to eliminating all types of crime in the country.” The amendment could indicate a shifting of the mission of Paraguay’s armed forces — which have not been involved in an international conflict since 1870 — to a more active role in internal security.
The Cartes government did not waste time in using its newly delegated powers. On Aug. 24, it sent soldiers to Amambay, Concepción and San Pedro, the three departments where EPP activity has been highest. Armed forces chief Miguel Christ said 400 soldiers had been initially deployed to these three departments, including 60 members of the army’s special forces.
The Paraguayan government estimates that the EPP — an outfit inspired by Marxist-Leninist ideas — numbers only 50 to 60 full-time fighters.
Facing a government that is, at least publicly, more focused on its elimination than its predecessors, the EPP appears to be adapting as well. In late August, investigators from the country’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat [Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas, or SENAD] revealed that EPP guerrillas were giving protection to drug traffickers moving cocaine from Peru and Bolivia in exchange for weapons.