ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – President Fernando Lugo has requested congress decree a “state of exception” in the Northern provinces of the South American nation, where the country’s intelligence unit says cells of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP for its acronym in Spanish) operate.
The measure is allowed by the Constitution and permits the apprehension of those accused of participating in activities that caused the government to declare a state of exception, which allows law enforcement to work alongside the armed forces.
The request was triggered by the two recent gunfights between EPP operatives and police in the departments of Alto Paraguay and Concepción. In one, police wounded Severiano Martínez, one of the rebel group’s leaders, but he managed to escape. In the other, three peasants and one police officer were killed in a raid from which the rebels were able to flee.
“We request that this bill be discussed as an urgent matter,” Lugo said in a media conference at the country’s congressional building. “The request is an answer to the feeling of uncertainty, to the highest levels of criminality and the lack of security.”
Lugo said legislators “have the absolute freedom to approve, reject or remake” the bill.
If approved, the state of exception will be in place in the departments of Concepción, Amambay, Alto Paraguay, Presidente Hayes and San Pedro.
“[We are aware that] at the international level, this bill will be controversial,” said Miguel Ángel López Perito, Lugo’s chief of staff. “But you have to understand the reality of the country to understand this request.”
The EPP began operating in 2001 as the Movimiento Patria Libre but has since transformed into a political party, with some of its members picking up arms under the name EPP.
The EPP is accused of more than 20 kidnappings, including that of Cecilia Cubas, daughter of former Paraguayan president Raúl Cubas, in 2004. They also are suspected by officials in the abduction of businessman Fidel Zavala, who was taken from his ranch in San Pedro in October 2009. Zavala was released Jan. 17.
Miguel Carrizosa, president of the congress, said it was unclear how the bill will be discussed, but added that “in all past crises, the parliament has given its support.”
Sen. Julio César Velázquez, from the opposition Colorado party, said that his organization “will support the measure.”
“We will do anything necessary to guarantee the security of all Paraguayans,” he said.
Government officials in the security sector support Lugo’s proposal.
“EPP has operated for [almost] 10 years in Paraguay and has grown stronger,” Carmelo Caballero, the country’s vice minister for internal security said. “This bill will help us find and capture the leaders of this organization.”
Police forces are searching for Martínez, who has been trained to survive in extreme conditions, which include being wounded, Caballero said.
“He was trained in Colombia by the [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia],” Caballero said.
Paraguayan prosecutors believe there are links between the two terrorist organizations based on e-mails received by their counterparts in Colombia referring to the expansion of the FARC in the southern cone.
“A group [of Paraguayan guerrillas] went to be trained in Colombia,” said Alejo Vera, the prosecutor of the country’s anti-kidnapping unit. “They learned kidnapping techniques. Now, they wear the same type of camouflaged uniforms, they use similar weapons and they follow the manual of terrorism word-for-word.”