The Sound and Fury and Twisted Logic of the EPP, the Paraguayan People's Army

The EPP, Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo, is an armed fringe leftist guerrilla (rebel army) in Paraguay who are good at making their presence felt through high-profile kidnappings (and executions). Though some of the leadership is imprisoned, members live on the run, hiding in the forests and countryside.*

Kidnappings serve a dual purpose for the EPP. They provide income (supplementing what the EPP likely gets from Colombia's FARC and Venezuela's government and maybe Bolivia) and allow the marginal EPP to influence the political agenda in the country. Paraguay has a long history of terror (much of it coming directly from the rightwing government of the 50s to the 80s) and the politics of fear play a huge role still. And so, when María Edith Bordon de Debernardi was kidnapped in 2001 and found alive but still clearly bearing the psychological trauma of her experience, when Cecilia Cubas was kidnapped in 2004 and later found dead in a hole in the ground (after her family had paid a ransom), and when Fidel Zavala was taken in 2009, the sense that no one is safe and unseen assailants are watching, plotting has a powerful effect.

But the EPP is not popular in Paraguay. The average Paraguayan is more politically conservative than their counterparts in other Latin American countries and much of the left has repudiated any politically-motivated violence (including people like Ananías Maidana--the president of the Communist Party of Paraguay--who was incarcerated for 20 years and tortured during the Stroessner dictatorship, a man with the moral high ground who unequivocally denounced all political violence).

The ironic (or perhaps intended) outcome of the EPP's actions is that campesino (peasant-farmer) communities who are not involved suffer reprisals, since they are suspected of having leftist sympathies. The twisted logic appears to go like this: since Paraguayans are not sympathetic towards Marxist uprisings, the way to make them sympathetic is to provoke the government into repressing campesinos (much of Paraguay is rural), and a good way to do that is to kidnap and threaten the elites.

Most recently, the EPP has been in the news because its jailed leader, Alcides Oviedo, just published a book explaining the group's ideology. Some sought to ban the book, censorship was decried, and the NYTimes covered the story--all in all, an effective strategy for the EPP, since, at $13 a copy (50 mil guaranies), the book is too expensive for the poorest of Paraguayans (supposedly their intended audience) to purchase. $13 represents more than a week's worth of income for 1/3 of Paraguayans who live on less than $2 a day.

My take on this is that the EPP's strategy won't work--they've been blinded by trauma and anger, but terror doesn't win hearts and minds.

*(Paraguay offers good hiding, as Nazi war criminal and naturalized Paraguayan citizen Josef "Angel of Death" Mengele was pleased to find.)

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