The Popular Revolutionary Army (Ejercito Popular Revolucionario – EPR) is a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group based in southern Mexico that has carried out attacks on military bases and oil pipelines since its emergence in 1996.
The EPR formed out of a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist group that arose in the 1970s, the Clandestine Revolutionary Workers’ Party Union of the People (PROCUP). It joined with several smaller leftist groups to establish the EPR as its armed wing in 1994. This was the same year that the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), another guerrilla movement in the same region, launched their armed rebellion against the state.
The EPR publicly announced itself in 1996, when some 100 armed men entered the town of Aguas Blancas, in Guerrero state, on the anniversary of the police’s massacre of 17 farmer peasant protesters there. They read out a political manifesto calling for the overthrow of the government, citing inequality and violent repression, and fired 17 pistol shots to commemorate the dead.
In the months after their 1996 public emergence, the EPR carried out a series of attacks against the police and military in Guerrero state. One of these attacks was an assault on a military base near Los Encinos which the EPR claimed killed more than 30 soldiers, though the authorities put the number of dead at below five. In August of the same year, the EPR carried out a series of coordinated attacks, including assaults on military bases, police stations, a radio station and towns in Oaxaca, leaving at least 17 dead.
In 1998, a more radical faction led by Jacobo Silva, alias “Commander Antonio,” split off from the EPR, calling itself the Insurgent People’s Revolutionary Army (ERPI).
There was a lull in activity for several years, before the EPR launched a spate of attacks on gas and oil pipelines in Central Mexico and Veracruz in July and September 2007. The EPR claimed responsibility, saying that they were carrying out the attacks as a protest over the disappearance of two of their members who had gone missing in Oaxaca in May of that year, and added that they would avoid causing injuries.
The group says that members Gabriel Alberto Cruz Sanchez and Edmundo Reyes were forcibly disappeared by federal forces, though the government denies knowing their whereabouts. The group has continued to agitate over their case, threatening in November 2012 to resume attacks until the men are located.
The EPR is led by five commanders whose full names are unknown, and the ERPI is led by Jacobo Silva, alias “Commander Antonio”.
The EPR’s main areas of operation are Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas. The group has also been reported to have a presence in Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Michoacan, Morelos, Puebla, Queretaro, Tlaxcala, Veracruz and the Federal District (Mexico City).
Allies and Enemies
The EPR has expressed its support for the Zapatistas, though the Chiapas-based group has denied any connection, and has renounced violent methods. There have also been reports of the EPR making contact with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Following the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero in 2014, the ERPI declared war on the Guerreros Unidos, the criminal group allegedly responsible for the attack. The ERPI has been linked to self-defense groups in Guerrero.
There were reports of peace talks between the rebels and the government in 2008, but these soon fell apart. The EPR is still cited as a threat by Mexican authorities, who warned in 2012 that it was rearming and reorganizing. The navy reportedly cited the threat posed by the EPR and the ERPI as justification for setting up nine new military bases on Mexico’s southern border in 2009, and warned that the groups were obtaining heavy weapons trafficked from Guatemala. The group has also been accused of getting funds by carrying out kidnappings for ransom.