Paraguay's anti-drug chief has said the EPP guerrilla group has moved from taxing drug production to producing their own marijuana, but the group's limited manpower and resources restrict any direct and large-scale involvement in the drug trade.
In an interview with EFE, Luis Rojas -- the head of Paraguay's National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD) -- stated that the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP) had progressed from charging a "revolutionary tax" on drugs and providing security services, to running its own drug production centers.
As evidence for this claim, Rojas cited indications that the EPP has camps near marijuana production centers, photos of EPP guerrillas in marijuana plantations, and a video in which the group is shown preparing an area for planting in a wooded area.
In a letter allegedly written by the EPP that was released this week, the rebels denied they were involved in drug trafficking, stating that the government's claims were an attempt to stain the group's reputation.
Given the fact that the EPP is only believed to number around 30 fighters and there have been indications that some 13 recently split off to form a dissident group, it seems unlikely the rebels would currently have the manpower and resources to become directly involved in the drug trade. The group is also allegedly hiding two kidnapping victims, which would be a further drain on limited resources.
In addition, Brazilian criminal groups like the Red Command (CV) and the First Capital Command (PCC) play a significant role in Paraguay's drug trade, and the EPP would likely be wary of going up against these powerful criminal organizations.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the EPP
When InSight Crime spoke with Luis Rojas in August, the SENAD director stated that there was no hard evidence of the EPP's direct involvement in the drug trade, and that it was more likely they were charging "taxes" on marijuana crops. It is possible he could be trying to leverage information on what could be only minor guerrilla involvement in marijuana production to secure a boost to SENAD's budget.
However, there have been indications the EPP may have increased its role in the drug trade. In addition to the evidence cited by Rojas, authorities suspect the EPP may have been linked to 1.7 tons of cocaine seized in Concepcion -- where the group operates -- in August this year.
The EPP is also known to have significant ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerrilla group that followed the trajectory Rojas is indicating the EPP may follow. The FARC went from charging "taxes" on drug production, known as the "gramaje" to playing a more direct role in the illegal drug trade, even operating its own cocaine laboratories and drug export routes.