Evidence has emerged that a faction of the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP) has broken away and formed a separate group, one perhaps more closely linked with the country's marijuana trade and modeled after Colombia's guerrillas.
An EPP column, led by two brothers, Albino and Alfredo Jara Larrea (22 and 23 years old respectively), appear to have formed a splinter group, called the Armed Peasant Association (Asociacion Campesina Armada - ACA), which is believed to number some 13 fighters. Local authorities retrieved information on the new breakaway faction from a memory stick, recovered after a rebel military action earlier this month in the area of Arroyito, in Concepcion province, where the new group is based.
There have long been rumors of disagreements within the EPP, particularly over the behavior of the Jara brothers, who have been conducting themselves in a less "disciplined" manner than the EPP's core founders.
"The Jara brothers like to drink and the party. They steal and spend the money on women and alcohol," Colonel Ramon Benitez, the head of the Joint Task Force, stationed in Concepcion, told InSight Crime. The task force was formed to hunt down the rebels.
It is likely that the ransom gained from the kidnapping of a local businessman last June in Yby Yau, Concepcion, provided the impetus for the breakaway rebel group's formation. The payment of over one million guarani (over $230,000) could have provided sufficient funding for the dissident column to decide to end its dependency on the EPP core group.
With the split, the EPP may have lost up to a third of its fighting strength. Authorities have identified the key members of the newly formed ACA, which, in addition to the Jara brothers, includes Luciano Arguello (aged 21), alias "Roberto Campo," Silverio Acosta Zacarias, Rudy Ruiz Sosa (30), Marcos Ojeda, and Ruben Dario Lopez Fernandez (31), who has taken the alias "Raul Reyes," after a Colombian rebel commander killed in an aerial bombardment in Ecuador in 2008. Lopez also completed military service, as did the Jara brothers, and therefore brings valuable military training to the dissident rebel group.
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The dissident faction's breakaway from the EPP significantly weakens the Paraguayan guerrilla group. This is not simply due to the loss of fighters, but potentially the network of collaborators that the EPP has built in its stronghold in Concepción and the neighboring province of San Pedro. One source close to the EPP told InSight Crime that, "Paraguay does not have mountains and jungles like Colombia. Our mountains and jungles are the civilian population, and they hide us just as well."
It is this network that has prevented the authorities from getting close to the group, even though the rebels seldom stray beyond their small heartland.
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According to Luis Rojas, the head of Paraguay's anti-drug agency, the SENAD, the ACA is modeling itself on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and already has links to drug trafficking.
"We have confirmation that these anti-patriotic criminals are copying the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and charging a revolutionary tax on drug traffickers and cattle rustlers," Rojas said.
One of the principal sources of revenue for the Colombian rebels is the drug trade, where the FARC charge a "tax" on all coca and cocaine production in their areas of influence. This is a model that the last remaining faction of the Shining Path, operating in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valleys (VRAEM) in Peru, also follows.
The SENAD boss believes that the ACA is seeking to replicate this system with marijuana. This is not only possible, but probable. InSight Crime found marijuana plantations while conducting field research in Arroyito, the ACA heartland. While kidnapping is the main source of income for the Paraguayan rebels, many farmers and ranchers in this area are victims of EPP extortion demands, and it is very likely that the marijuana growers are also being forced to pay.
The links with the drug trade may go further than simple "taxation" or extortion. ACA rebel fighter Lopez escaped from prison in Concepcion, along with six other inmates, in November 2013. The man who led the prison break was none other than Osmar de Souza Junior, the head of the First Catarinense Group (Primeiro Grupo Catarinense - PGC), a Brazilian transnational organized crime group, with presence in both Paraguay and Peru. It is believed that Lopez and de Souza were friends in prison, and may have stayed in contact, providing the ACA with valuable international criminal connections.
For General Oscar Pavon, the head of the Army's Fourth Division, based in Concepcion, the Paraguayan rebels have imitated the FARC in more than just their source of revenue.
"Their manual, their tactics, their modus operandi all bear an uncanny resemblance to those of the FARC," the general told InSight Crime.
So far, according to SENAD boss, Luis Rojas, there is not enough evidence to link the EPP with drug trafficking. However, the newly created ACA, with less "revolutionary" discipline, may well seek to deepen involvement in the marijuana business, and reap the financial rewards that would inevitably follow.