On September 13th, hundreds of protesters gathered in Paraguay to demand freedom for the former vice president, Óscar Denis. Denis and one of his employees were kidnapped on Wednesday night by members of the Marxist rebel group Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP). The rebel group called on the government to discharge two of their detained leaders in return for Denis’s release. The deal’s deadline expired on Sunday night, and the former vice president has still not been seen. Now, violence in Paraguay has intensified, and the tension between the government and EPP continues to aggravate.
Many believe that the kidnappings are in response to the deaths of two 11-year old girls a few weeks earlier, shot in a raid by the Joint Task Force, a military unit created to handle rebel activities. The state quickly buried the girls’ bodies in unidentified graves and burned their possessions. When the bodies were exhumed, the girls were found to be Argentinian and related to the leaders of the EPP. Both the Argentinian government and the United Nations demand an unbiased and fair investigation of the situation.
According to The Guardian, the EPP stated that they would kill Denis if their two imprisoned leaders, Carmen Villalba and Alcides Oviedo, were not released by Sunday night at 10 o’clock. Along with this, they demanded his family allocate 2 million dollars’ worth of food to rural communities and spread the EPP’s propaganda. Denis’s family immediately complied. The Paraguayan government has not listened to the rebel group’s demands, as it refuses to condone kidnappings and commands to release criminal offenders. In an interview with the BBC, Paraguayan Minister of the Interior Euclides Acevedo explained that the state rejects any negotiations about “matters of public security.” “It’s a war,” Acevedo said, “not a sports tournament.”
While the EPP has been condemned for its violent measures, the Paraguayan state’s failure to protect children has been harshly criticized. According to a 2015 report from the Paraguayan Mechanism for Prevention of Torture, the two girls the Joint Task Force shot were not the first children Paraguay has allowed to be killed or tortured. Aníbal Cabrera, director of the Paraguayan Coordination Group for the Rights of Children and Adolescents (CDIA), said that for two years the state knew about the training and recruiting of children, without implementing any system of protection. “We think that there are more adolescents and children linked to these groups. The state must protect them, not kill them. We can’t see that there’s any real strategy to do that,” Cabrera said.
The EPP has its origin in the Free Homeland Party, a radical Marxist group founded in the 1990’s. The party was dissolved by police in 2005, but former members revived the group in 2008 as a communist guerrilla movement. The EPP’s chief political goal is allegedly to provide for Paraguay’s poor. However, the group is largely known for its violence and extortion, as it has executed several armed operations, kidnappings, and killings since its emergence.
The former vice president’s kidnapping is only the latest battle in the ongoing war between the government and the EPP. Rural communities in the northeast, people the EPP claims to care about, have been exposed to drug trafficking, smuggling, and the EPP’s own activities. Meanwhile, Paraguay’s leaders are torturing and killing children in their attempts to take down the rebel group. Neither system protects Paraguay’s vulnerable. As Cristina Coronel of the Peace and Justice Service says, “If we want to stop crime, we have to provide the basic conditions communities deserve, not more militarization and repression.” Reducing poverty, not increasing violence, is the only way to fight the ongoing violence in Paraguay.
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