ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – Military personnel are patrolling the main streets in the nation’s capital in an effort to deter possible attacks by the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), the largest terrorist organization in the landlocked nation.
“The objective of this intervention is to safeguard Paraguayan citizen security during the month of the bicentennial and to act as a contingency force in case of an event,” said Col. Luis González, communications director for the Paraguayan Military Forces at the Army Command.
González said the deployment of troops is allowed under the parameters of Article 173 of the Constitution, which authorizes the military to guard national territory.
The patrols, which will conclude at month’s end, started on May 2, a week after Interior Minister Rafael Filizzola said the government fears a possible terrorist attack in connection with the country’s bicentennial festivities, scheduled from May 13 to 15.
“The government continues to be on alert to the EPP cells that are still in Asunción,” stated Filizzola to radio 780 AM.
Filizzola said the EPP was responsible for 27 kidnappings for ransom from 2005 to 2009, including the kidnapping of the daughter of former President Raúl Cubas, Cecilia Cubas, whom the EPP killed in February 2005. The EPP also kidnapped rancher Fidel Zavala in October 2009 before releasing him in January 2010.
Filizzola is concerned the EPP could be planning attacks during the bicentennial celebrations since foreign dignitaries are expected to be in attendance.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, Uruguayan President José Mujica, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and President Desiré Bouterse of Suriname have said they will be on hand for the festivities, according to the Paraguayan government.
Paraguay will celebrate 200 years of independence throughout May, but the main event is scheduled for May 15, the day on which Paraguayan patriots José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, Vicente Ignacio Iturbe and Juan Rivarola notified Spanish Gov. Bernardo de Velasco of Paraguay’s will to be independent.
Col. Freide Amarilla, regiment commander of the Presidential Escort Division of the Army, said the troops will be stationed at 25 key checkpoints throughout Asunción, including the city’s main entrances.
“[We] will also have ready naval patrols with 13 vessels that will monitor the Paraguay and Paraná rivers,” he said. “We’ll also have three helicopters and one Toucan aircraft. We’ll also have 12 pickup trucks and two Cascavel tanks.”
“It [the presence of the military] is something positive because the EPP are dangerous people and when there is danger, people get scared and almost never leave their houses, and that is not good for us because our sales drop,” said Ángel Medina, a 21-year-old street vendor.
Medina sells candies at the traffic light on the corner of Avenue Aviadores del Chaco and Madame Lynch, one of the main access points into the city – and where the Cascavel tanks are stationed.
Zaid Meza, a 30-year-old journalist, has mixed feelings about the deployment.
“On the one hand, the mission of the armed forces is to safeguard the country, but it is too bad that we are under the latent threat of terrorist attacks,” he said. “That is the bad part because instead of having the military take charge of our sovereignty, they focus their energies on domestic security.”
But Col. González justified the operation saying that it is part of a synergy with other forces to maximize the country’s overall security.
“[Being on the streets] is not a unilateral decision of the Armed Forces,” Col. González said. “This is a joint operation with the National Police that seeks to offer citizens guaranteed security.”