Paraguay’s main guerrilla group has displaced hundreds of Mennonite families from an area not far from strategic drug trafficking routes, suggesting the group may be seeking to increase its role in the country’s booming marijuana trade.
Nearly 130 families of Mennonite settlers from the rural, central department of San Pedro fled to the western department of Boquerón in order to escape threats from the Paraguayan People’s Army (Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo - EPP), Última Hora reported.
Mennonite settlers in Paraguay have for years faced threats from the EPP. In April 2014, EPP guerrillas kidnapped Mennonite teenager Arlan Fick before releasing him months later after his family paid a $500,000 ransom. More recently, a wave of kidnappings during the latter half of 2017 in San Pedro, including those of two more Mennonite teenagers, were attributed to the EPP.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay
However, the Mennonite community is not the only group to be targeted by violence and kidnappings at the hands of the guerrillas. The EPP kidnapped Paraguayan police officer Edelio Morínigo in July 2014 and have still yet to release him. And in August 2016, EPP guerrillas killed eight Paraguayan soldiers after ambushing their convoy just north of San Pedro.
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The EPP’s recent use of violence and kidnapping to exert territorial control follows a pattern of similar tactics used by other guerrilla groups in the region in the past, and may be an attempt by the group to increase its presence in a key border region critical to the marijuana trade in Paraguay, South America's foremost producer of the drug.
Peru’s Shining Path guerrilla group has used targeted attacks against security forces and mass kidnappings in the past to showcase their strength and maintain territorial control over key drug trafficking areas. And the now demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) -- which at one time was arguably the most important player in the global cocaine trade -- became notorious for using kidnappings as a show of strength.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the EPP
The EPP’s use of these tactics may be an attempt to increase its presence in an area strategic to Paraguay’s lucrative marijuana trade: the border town of Pedro Juan Caballero. This hotly disputed region is currently the battleground for Brazil’s two largest criminal groups, the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), as they vie for control of drug trafficking routes located there.
Authorities in Paraguay have long warned of the EPP’s links to drug trafficking, from serving as an “armed wing’ for drug trafficking groups to even producing their own marijuana. The department of San Pedro, where the EPP have recently been active, is not far from the town of Pedro Juan Caballero, a key drug transit point situated along the Brazilian border in neighboring Amambay. It’s possible that the EPP may be trying to carve out a larger role in the marijuana trade or form an alliance with other criminal groups operating there.