Thursday, July 28, 2011

An Easy Way to Improve U.S.-Latin American Relations

W. Alex Sanchez, "An Easy Way to Improve U.S.-Latin American Relations" (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, July 28, 2011)

During his attendance at a recent African Union summit, former Brazilian president Lula da Silva critiqued the structure of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC): “it isn't possible that Latin America, with its 400 million inhabitants, does not have permanent representation. Five countries decide what to do and how to do it, regardless of the rest of the humans living on this planet.”

Such statements are nothing new. The UNSC’s structure has come under heavy criticism in recent years, with repeated calls for its expansion. Countries like India, South Africa, and Brazil have become the usual suspects as possible new permanent members. And the Portuguese-speaking giant has emerged as the de facto representative for Latin America and the Caribbean to the UNSC.

If the United States backs Brazil's bid, it will gain considerable political capital in Latin America.

Brazil’s UN Qualifications

Brazil has been a rising star in Latin America and the world for several decades and boasts a number of successes that supports its quest for becoming a permanent representative to the UNSC. For starters the country has a history of involvement in UN missions: one of the first Brazilian UN deployments occurred in 1956 when Brasilia, under President Juscelino Kubitschek, sent peacekeepers to the Sinai. Brazilians have also served in the UN Observer Mission in El Salvador and the UN Mission in Angola. More recently, Brasilia took a leadership role in the UN Stabilization Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH) to aid the transitional government that took control of Haiti after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s ouster. Brazil has provided the military commanders for MINUSTAH along with a significant number of troops.

In addition, Brasilia has also provided personnel for the UN peace mission efforts in East Timor, which separated from Indonesia in 2002. Leading up to East Timor’s independence, Brazilian diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello served as the special representative of the UN secretary general and as UN transitional administrator (a sort of de facto governor) from December 1999 to May 2002. De Mello spent most of his career working for the UN instead of the Brazilian diplomatic corps and he was even thought to have been a likely candidate for the position of UN secretary general, which would have been a great honor for him and his country. He was tragically killed in the Canal Hotel bombing in Iraq on August 2003 while working as the secretary general’s special representative to Iraq.

In addition, Brazil already appears to be a de facto semi-permanent member of the UNSC, without the crucial veto power, due to the number of times it has held a temporary seat. Brasilia had a seat in 1946-1947, 1951-1953, 1954-1956, 1963-1965, and 1967-1968. Because the country had a military government from 1964 to 1985, it would not return to the UNSC until 1988-1989. Since returning to democratic rule, Brazil has had a seat almost non-stop: in 1993-1995; 1998-2000; 2004-2006; and currently in 2010 until the end of 2011. Furthermore, in another diplomatic victory, former minister José Graziano da Silvahas has been elected to be the next director general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Besides its role in the UN, Brazil today has strong relations with different countries and regions of the world. For example, under former president Lula da Silva, Brazil became a major supporter for the creation of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations - Union de Naciones Suramericanas), a South American political bloc that has all 12 states as its members.

Regarding non-hemispheric inter-state relations, Brazil, along with Russia, China and India form the BRIC countries, regarded as rising, non-Western economic and political powerhouses. In addition, with India and South Africa, Brazil has formed a loose alliance known as IBSA; which aims to promote political and economical integration between its members. In September 2010 the three states carried out military maritime exercises in South Africa.

Furthermore, Brazil has historical ties with the Sub-Saharan Africa as well as fellow Portuguese-speaking countries. The African countries that Brazil has approached include Nigeria, Angola, and Mozambique though the agreements reached between them appear to be mostly focused around commerce and/or tourism. Only with South Africa has there been a special, more multi-dimensional relationship.

Likewise, Brazil has taken steps to promote the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), which Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe established in 1996. Of primary importance to Brazil may be the fact that the CPLP countries, including East Timor now as an independent state, have supported Brazil’s candidacy for a UNSC permanent seat. Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota has said that CPLP countries support each other in all their claims in international institutions like the United Nations, adding that “the idea is that we mutually support our bids. When a country from our family is a candidate for a position in an international organ, it will have our support.”

Finally, Brazil has a booming economy, with offshore oil fields recently discovered that will make the country’s maritime industry grow even more. This may actually turn out to be the decade of Brazil, as it will also host two major sporting events: the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Drawbacks and Criticisms

Nevertheless, Brazil’s has drawn criticism for some of its foreign and domestic initiatives. Brazil has had a controversial role in MINUSTAH as the UN mission has been regarded as a type of colonial government by the UN in the wake of the ouster of former president Aristide. MINUSTAH troops have been accused of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings during operations in areas like Cite Soleil while battling criminal gangs and rebels. Although Brazilian peacekeepers have not been singled out for responsibility for the violence, the country provides up to 1,300 troops to the mission, more than any other country, and a Brazilian commander has continuously led the effort. Ironically, during the 2005 riots in Cite Soleil and Bel Air, the Brazilians faced complaints that “[they] don't seem like they want to get too involved.”

In addition, Brazil’s domestic security policies have come under criticism for police crackdowns on gangs that operate in shantytowns in an effort to rid Brazil's major cities of crime in time for the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Local residents also fear that when the Rio Olympics are over, “the state will take less interest in the favelas, allowing the drug trafficking gangs to re-establish control.” Furthermore, groups like Amnesty International have expressed concern “as Rio de Janeiro carries forth large scale ‘urbanization’ plans in preparation for the sporting events.” These organizations argue that Olympic projects “ranging from the Trans Carioca to the Trans Olimpica and parking, have been blamed for the planned as well as already executed forced removal of partial or entire communities.”

Finally, as strong as the Brazilian economy is today, the country’s overvalued currency will eventually lead to some kind of correction. According to Bloomberg, the valuation of the real “is prompting analysts to predict the currency will tumble 10 percent by 2013, which would make it the worst performer in the world.”

How the Rest of America Feels

In recent years, besides Brazil, countries like Mexico and Venezuela have increased their regional influence. It is debatable, however, if either of them are possible candidates to be permanent representatives to the UNSC. Regarding Mexico, the country has strong influences in Central America, and it has an expanding economy. It also has a growing role in organizations like APEC (Asia Pacific Economic cooperation) and is host to a relatively unknown but important organization: OPANAL (Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America). However, one of the concerns is that Mexico is regarded as too politically close to the United States due to close economic and security ties through Plan Merida and NAFTA. Hence Mexico would have difficulty being independent of Washington’s influence.

On the other hand, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has made it a foreign policy priority to distance his country from Washington, a 180 degree turn from Venezuela before Chavez, when the South American state was a reliable U.S. ally. Chavez certainly has some international support, but he has also been a divisive figure. It's not likely that Chavez could win sufficient international support for Venezuela's bid for a seat.

In general, most Latin American states have expressed their support for Brazil’s UN bid. In May 2011, President Chavez met with Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rouseff, and expressed his support for his Portuguese neighbor’s UNSC quest. Other countries like Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile have also voiced their support. “So far Brazil's claim has gone largely uncontested, except for minor murmurings of dissent,” according to the UPI. A May/June 2011 article in Foreign Affairs adds that “many Latin American officials quietly reveal that they are not eager to see Brazil replace the United States as the hemisphere’s hegemon. As one diplomat recently put it, ‘The new imperialists have arrived, and they speak Portuguese.’” It would seem that Latin American support for Brazil to the UNSC is not simply due to good relations between regional governments and Brasilia but also due to the lack of any other regional candidate to counterbalance Brasilia’s ambition.

Regarding Washington, President Barack Obama has not carried out a concrete policy toward Latin America. He has occasionally travelled to the region, and he visited Brazil this past March. But his priorities are someplace else (i.e. the American economy and U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya). During his recent trip to Brazil, he recognized “Brazil's extraordinary rise” and he “expressed appreciation for Brazil's aspiration,” to have a permanent seat at the UNSC, nevertheless he stopped short of openly supporting Brasilia’s bid.

Improving Washington's Relations with Latin America

The United Nations Security Council is long overdue for a general restructuring, and controversial decisions like the authorization to begin a military operation in Libya (officially to protect civilians but it’s widely understood that the coalition of warships in the Mediterranean is indirectly aiding the rebels against Muammar Gaddafi) have brought about accusations that the Libya mission is just another example of how UNSC permanent members use the UN to project and protect their national interests. An expansion of the UNSC is an obvious recommendation and several of the permanent UN members have expressed support for powerhouses that aspire for a seat: Britain, for instance, supports Brazil while China and Russia support India. Nevertheless, according to several specialists, the major issue with UNSC reform is not a lack of potential models, but a lack of political will. None of the permanent members has prioritized a change the UNSC structure in the immediate future.

Regarding Brazil, the country does have most of the basic requirements, including backing by several states, to be a UNSC permanent member, making it the self-evident representative of Latin America and Caribbean. This doesn’t mean that Brazil is the perfect candidate to represent the region, but so far it is the only real option. The country should continue its version of good neighbor diplomacy and for that it might want to respect decisions by international bodies even if its government does not agree with them.

One perfect example of this is Brasilia’s challenge and rejection of a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, which had asked Brazil to stop the construction of the Belo Monte dam, as it hadn’t taken into the account the opinions and needs of local indigenous groups. The world already has too many powerhouses doing what they want, irrespective of the wishes by weaker states or international bodies. If Brazil really wants to be a representative powerhouse with a seat at the UNSC, it would help if it became the exception to the rule and actually respected decisions by the international organizations that it belongs to, instead of making claims that the OAS suggestions were “precipitated and unjustifiable.”

Finally, more open Washington support for Brazil’s UN aspirations would certainly help improve relations between the United States and Latin America. The election of Barack Obama was very well received by the Global South in general but, at least regarding the Western Hemisphere, not much has happened during his tenure. A stronger endorsement by the White House stating that Latin America does deserve a permanent member at the UNSC table would be a very important positive step in making the Washington-Latin American relationship a partnership of equals.

W. Alejandro Sánchez is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus and a research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs where he focuses on international security and geopolitical issues.

recommended citation:
W. Alex Sanchez, "An Easy Way to Improve U.S.-Latin American Relations" (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, July 28, 2011)

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) – A New Insurgent Group with an Old Time Political Ideology?

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Fellow Alex Sanchez
Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA -
July 22, 2011

The Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army, or EPP) has now become a household name in Paraguay as well as among security agencies in neighboring countries. For the moment, it has focused its field of operations on kidnapping wealthy Paraguayans, only occasionally attacking Paraguay’s security forces. One of the most prominent victims of the EPP has been Fidel Zavala, who was held captive for 94 days until he was finally freed on January 17, 2010. Unfortunately, as the history of insurgent movements in general seems indicate, there is ample room for “growth” when it comes to their possible future operations. From kidnappings to murder, along with armed raids and other major attacks, this group also has been accused of kidnapping and subsequently brutally murdering Cecilia Cubas, the daughter of former Paraguayan president Raúl Cubas.

The ascent of the EPP raises a number of contentious issues, but two stand out in particular. First, what kind of counterinsurgency strategy might Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo carry out? The Paraguayan head of state is a former bishop who was criticized during the presidential campaign for his religious background, with the implication being that it might make him soft on crime. Nevertheless, Lugo has not had a problem with deploying over 2,000 troops to the northern parts of the country to crack down on the EPP. [1] This, in turn, raises a new set of problems, as Paraguayan civil society has a somewhat problematic relationship with its military, dating back to a number of recent military-backed dictatorships that were known for their human rights abuses.

The second issue has more to do with the EPP itself; it claims to have a leftist political ideology. Specifically, according to reports, the group argues that it has a Socialist/Communist ideological heritage, with inspiration coming from international and national heroes (like Che Guevara). If this is true, the EPP would be one of the first violent organizations to appear in Latin America after the end of the Cold War that pledges to have a political ideology. In the era of international Mexican cartels and widespread drug-trafficking groups, this would represent a significant development.

The EPP already presents an interesting case-study for academics, but for the Paraguayan government, it is a new security threat that will have to be faced. Paraguay today is, unfortunately, a poor, under-developed, landlocked state in dire need of development of every description. But improving the living conditions of its population is no easy task. The last thing this South American country needs is a brutal counterinsurgency war, as some of its neighbors have recently experienced.

The EPP – A Brief Synopsis

For the moment, the EPP remains a relatively obscure guerrilla movement. According to Jane’s Defense, its origins date back to 1992 when a group of trainee priests, who had been expelled from a Catholic seminary for their radical political views, established the Movimiento Monseñor Romero with the aim of plotting a socialist revolution. For the Asunción daily ABC, the EPP is a group comprised of criminal elements accused of murdering police officials and attacking police and military outposts. [2] According to that news service, the EPP was created in 2005, after the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Cecilia Cubas. By contrast, the EPP argues that it is an armed group made up of peasant communities. It denies Asunción’s accusations that it is a group of criminals or has any affiliation with any other insurgent organizations like the Colombian FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia); however, the government claims that the EPP has strong ties with the Colombian guerrillas, going as far as insisting that the Paraguayan rebels have received training in Colombian encampments.[3] It is known that at least one key FARC leader, Orley Jurado Palomino, aka Commander Santiago, has gone to Paraguay to provide training, advice and operational leadership to the insurgent group. It is also unclear if the EPP has ties with some major Brazilian drug trafficking organizations, like the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and Red Command (Comando Vermelho) which are known to have a significant presence in northern Paraguay.

Between 2010 and 2011 the EPP appears to have increased the boldness of its operations. On April 21, 2010, there was a shootout between EPP members and security forces in Arroyito in the province of Concepción. One policeman and three private guards were killed, which brought about the calling of a “state of exception” and major military deployment.

In addition, Interior Minister Rafael Filizzola has accused the EPP of being the masterminds of explosions across the country. Indeed, the EPP has taken credit for a detonation that injured five people in the town of Horqueta on January 17, 2011. [4] An EPP note declared this was a retaliatory attack for the death of two EPP members at the hands of the Paraguayan police in 2010. More recently, in mid-July 2011, the EPP claimed ownership of an attack on a farm known as “La Amanda,” in as the department of Concepción, close to the border with Brazil, in which farm machinery was destroyed. [5]

Nevertheless, as a small group, the EPP still lacks two critical components: money and weapons. It has some popular support in Northern Paraguay, but it does not have a surplus of active combatants, for which financial funding and training is a necessity. One can see, however, that the EPP has increased and improved the nature of its operations. Originally, the EPP carried out bank robberies, but they proved to be dangerous and unprofitable. In November 2001, the clandestine organization carried out its first successful kidnapping, that of María Edith de Debernardi. Publicly, USD 1 million ransom was reportedly paid for her release, although rumors are that the amount was much greater. Kidnappings continued after that, like that of Cecilia Cubas; it is believed that the Cubas family paid USD 300,000 in ransom, but the EPP still killed the former president’s daughter (when her body was found, officials declared that she had been suffocated). The EPP has also been accused of being involved in drug trafficking in collaboration with Brazilian cartels. Regarding armament, the group’s modus operandi to secure weapons is to steal whatever its members can obtain from their attacks against security installations.

A 2009 analysis by David A. Spencer, professor of National Security Studies at the National Defense University in Washington D.C., explains that the EPP membership can be divided into one of four categories: “A) Full-time combatants, B) Part-time combatants or militias, C) Logistics support forces, D) Internal and External political support and propaganda).” [6] The EPP is believed to be able to muster around 60 full-time combatants and its most important members include individuals identified as Osvaldo Villalba (the group’s leader), Manuel Cristaldo, Juan Arrom and Alcides Oviedo.

A Political Ideology?
Carmen Villalba, a self-declared spokeswoman of the EPP, has stated that the group’s support comes from “el pueblo paraguayo, del sector popular, de gente que eternamente fue burlada, discriminada, pisoteada” (“the Paraguayan people, the people who eternally feel that they have been ridiculed, discriminated against and stepped on”).[7] According to reports from the field, the EPP has been influenced by Che Guevara and Régis Debray, as well as national heroes like the Mariscal Francisco Solano López. Other reports, particularly coming from media declarations by former hostage Fidel Zavala, point out that the EPP also looks up to Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Karl Marx.

Even though the EPP seems to adhere to Marxist-Leninist ideology, prominent leftists such as Luis Casabianca, leader of the Paraguayan Communist Party, have condemned the Zavala kidnapping. The Paraguayan Marxist has stated that the EPP “no es revolucionario, sino terrorista” (“is not revolutionary, rather, terrorist”). [8] It is noteworthy that Casabianca, who in the 1960s was part of the guerrilla group Frente Unido de Liberación Nacional (FULNA), which today stands apart from the EPP.
Discussions will continue to assess whether the EPP is a criminal band or a real guerrilla group with a concrete political ideology that originates out of the extreme poverty for which Paraguay is known. In his previously mentioned 2009 analysis, Spencer highlights the somewhat ironic situation in Paraguay as President Lugo was elected on a fairly populist platform, resorting to a national coalition of left-wing and non-leftwing parties.[9] His election was part of a wave of populist governments that democratically took control, at least temporarily, of most South American states over the past decade, ranging from moderates like Lula da Silva in Brazil to more ideologically-prone ones like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia. Spencer explains that:

“Lugo’s election divided the peasant movement and support for EPP. Some wanted to form a single, unified and disciplined movement with single line of action, an option favored and pushed by the members of the EPP and their supporters. Others wanted to form a loose political coalition around the figure of Lugo, the alternative that ended up prevailing. It is this divisive political dynamic that explains EPP’s continued activity despite a leftist president in power.” [10]

The more extremist members of the EPP saw Lugo’s alliance with non-leftist, non-populist groups as a betrayal of their goals. In its communiqués, the EPP condemned the “treacherous pretend socialists” for making alliances with “pro-imperialists” and “pro-oligarchy” factions. On September 21, 2010, President Lugo allegedly received a threatening letter from the EPP, calling him a “walking cadaver” and has termed Minister of the Interior Rafael Filizzola and his wife, Congresswoman Desire Masi, as “oligarch bullies” and “money wasters.” [11]

The EPP has declared that it wants to establish a “Socialist/Communist” republic of Paraguay, and it will resort to violence to achieve this, but it is unclear what this utopian government would look like, particularly regarding its leadership. In Peru, the leaders of Shining Path and the MRTA (Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru), Abimael Guzmán and Victor Polay Campos respectively, also wanted to overthrow the central government in Lima and create a new state with themselves as presidents (or executive leaders). It is unclear so far if the EPP leadership has similar plans to establish itself as the head of this illusory Socialist Paraguay.

Lugo’s Response
The future of the EPP will depend on how President Fernando Lugo, the former Catholic priest, chooses to respond. Will the president turn to a military offensive, including search-and-destroy missions against the EPP, or should its activities be allowed to continue? Will Lugo’s religious background affect his decisions? Apparently not. In January 2010, six peasant leaders were detained by the country’s security forces, who accused them of being EPP members who were involved in the 2008 Luis Alberto Lindstrom kidnapping, despite claims from human rights activists that there was no concrete evidence against them. Then, in late April 2010, the Paraguayan leader ordered a 30 day “state of exception” and the deployment of 3,300 troops from the Paraguayan army, navy and air force, as well as 300 police officers, to the northern departments of Concepción, San Pedro, Amambay, Presidente Hayes and Alto Paraguay to crack down on the insurgents. [12] Political opposition groups, as well as civil society organizations, have since condemned these events. In any case, such military operations against the EPP so far have failed to disband the insurgent group. On March 15, 2011, the highly-regarded online defense newsletter Southern Pulse reported that Asunción increased a potential reward for information that could help capture high-ranking EPP members. [13]

It is worth highlighting the need for the Paraguayan armed forces to improve the effectiveness of their counterinsurgent operations, which are affected by the preparation and readiness of military personnel. Paraguay is burdened by a small defense budget, and thus its military has to resort to relatively cheap weapon deals with Brazil and target critical hardware areas that need major affordable upgrading. One example occurred in early 2011, when Brasilia donated three used Tucano 727 planes so that the Paraguayan air force could effectively train its pilots. The transaction didn’t involve a purchase, but rather represented an exchange whereby Paraguay obtained the three aircraft, and in turn it donated four unused Xavantes and an old Boeing 707. [14] According to an early June report by online defense news agency, the Paraguayan government declared that the country will now spend USD 40 million to obtain new equipment for its military. [15] The country wants to obtain ammo, military trucks, transport planes, radars and patrol vessels. Companies like Iturri, Renault Trucks Defense, Santa Barbara Systems and EADS have been mentioned as possible solo or joint suppliers. The commander of the armed forces, General Benicio Melgarejo, has stated the country’s intention to equip an infantry battalion for the navy, including the acquisition of vessels to patrol the country’s rivers. The Paraguayan military has also acquired 450 Galil 5.56mm assault rifles from Colombia.[16]

Furthermore, the EPP will initiate a new dynamic to take into account regarding civilian-military relations in Paraguay, which already are somewhat strained under the Lugo presidency. Since coming to power, Lugo has carried out at least three major purges of the military leadership, with the latest occurring in mid-2011. According to recent reports, Lugo has replaced top leaders like the commander of the army (General Darío Cáceres), the commander of Logistics (General Waldino Acuña) as well as other regional commanders. Analysts have speculated that this move is a way for Lugo to avoid a potential “constitutionalist coup”, similar to what happened in Honduras in 2010, as he tries to reform the constitution so he can run for re-election. The last attempted military coup in Paraguay took place in 2000, when rebel troops unsuccessfully tried to overthrow then-president Luis González Macchi. It is too early to tell if this change among the top military brass will affect the security operations against the EPP.

As a final point, there is the concern that military operations would devolve into human rights violations. Paraguayan civil society has been historically wary of its military due to decades of dictatorships like that of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) and his brutal crackdown on opposition groups.

Unfortunately for Paraguay, its security woes seem to have mounted recently. For years, the country has been rumored to have Hezbollah members operating within its territory. In addition, it has been painted as a center for numerous international crimes, ranging from drug trafficking to smuggling goods across natural borders, including expensive cars and other contraband.

So far, the EPP has proven itself to be a small but resilient and aggressive rebel group. The high profile kidnappings, bombings and occasional attacks against the country’s security forces show that it has little problem with carrying out specific and well-planned operations. While the EPP remains small and poses no major threat of an armed takeover of the capital and government, the potential exists for an increase in violence, which is the last thing that Paraguayan civil society would welcome. In any case, it remains debatable whether EPP members actually believe in the political ideology that they publicly profess. As mentioned earlier, if this is true, then the EPP would be, arguably, one of the first, if not the first ideologically-oriented insurgent organization to appear in Latin America since the end of the Cold War.
Regarding what actions Asunción is prepared to carry out regarding the EPP, it seems clear that President Lugo has not let his religious past affect his decisions so far, namely whether to use his security forces against the insurgent group. Up to now, there have been some successes against the group, like the capture of several of its members, but the EPP continues to function. There is a possibility that use of the military will result in human rights abuses, similar to events in other Latin American countries, namely Colombia and Peru. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, Paraguayan civil society has had a troubling experience with its armed forces due to military regimes that have ruled the country. Then again, if Lugo does not use his available resources to quell the EPP, the political opposition as well as the armed forces may perceive him as being weak and incapable of defending the country, thus making him a candidate for mockery.

At a time when it was believed that insurgent groups with a political ideology were a thing of the past, analysts assume that entities like drug cartels, international criminal gangs and narco-terrorist groups (like the FARC and the new version of the Peruvian Shining Path) will represent new security threats. This assumption is what makes the rise of the EPP a fascinating case from an academic point of view.
In any case, the EPP does present a potential security threat to the Paraguayan government and its society and must be dealt with adequately, both via security operations as well as by addressing its fundamental raisons d’etre (i.e. poverty, social alienation, etc). Similar suggestions have already been put forward for years in other countries (Colombia and Peru as primary examples of this); hopefully the Paraguayan government will learn from other countries’ failures and successes when it comes to seriously dealing with the EPP in a proportional and professional manner.


[1] Natalia Ruiz Diaz. “Paraguay: Controversy Over Troop Deployment.” IPS. (accessed July 18, 2011)

[2] “El EPP, Una organizacion criminal con solida estructura” ABC Digital.,-una-organizacin-criminal-con-slida-estructura/ (accessed July 19, 2011)

[3] Marta Escurra. “Paraguayan guerrillas were trained by the FARC.” Infosurhoy. (accessed July 19, 2011)

[4] “Fuerte explosion en un ataque del EPP a comisaria de Horqueta.” (accessed July 19, 2011)

[5] “Policia investiga ataque armado en hacienda ‘La Amanda,’ de Paso Barreto.” Nanduti 1020am. (accessed July 19, 2011)

[6] David Spencer. “Paraguayan People’s Army: Challenging a Populist Regime.” Security Defense Studies Review. 2009. Issues 1 & 2

[7] Freddy Aguilera. “Ejercito Paraguayo del Puelo ya incursion militarment.” (accessed July 18, 2011)

[8] “Lider comunista paraguayo critica acciones del Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo.” (accessed July 19, 2011)

[9] David Spencer. “Paraguayan People’s Army: Challenging a Populist Regime.” Security Defense Studies Review. 2009. Issues 1 & 2

[10] David Spencer. “Paraguayan People’s Army: Challenging a Populist Regime:” Security Defense Studies Review. Issues 1 & 2 (2009). P. 110

[11] Marta Escurra. “Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo allegedly threatened by EPP.” (accessed July 19, 2011)

[12] Natalia Ruiz Diaz. “Paraguay: Controversy Over Troop Deployment.” IPS. (accessed July 19, 2011)

[13] Southern Pulse – (registration necessary)

[14] “Brazil donates Three Tucano Advanced Trainers to Paraguay.” (accessed July 18, 2011)

[15] “Paraguay invertira 40 millones de dolares para modernizer sus Fuerzas Armadas.” (accessed July 19, 2011)

[16] “Paraguay compra urgentemente a Colombia 450 fusiles de as alto Gali.” Revista (accessed July 18, 2011)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Interview: Estados Unidos: en el tráfico de armas, Obama “hace poco”

Estados Unidos: en el tráfico de armas, Obama “hace poco”

Barack Obama, presidente de E.U.
Foto: AP
WASHINGTON (apro).- Mientras crece en Estados Unidos la presión parlamentaria para investigar el caso “Rápido y furioso”, la operación de la Oficina de Control de Alcohol, Tabaco, Armas y Explosivos (ATF, por sus siglas en inglés) que terminó en un desastre, un nuevo informe difundido en Washington afirma que el gobierno del presidente Barack Obama “hace poco para enfrentar el problema” del contrabando de armamentos.
“El reciente debate creado” alrededor del escándalo “Rápido y Furioso” logró “echar todavía más dudas sobre la capacidad de Estados Unidos de enfrentar el flujo de armas hacia México”, indica el reporte, difundido esta semana por el Council on Hemispheric Affairs (Coha), un think tank con sede en la capital de EU.
Según el reporte, “al tiempo que miles de armas estadunidenses entran a México cada año, el gobierno mexicano está cada vez más frustrado con Estados Unidos”. Y acusa a la administración Obama de “no controlar de manera efectiva el tráfico de armas”.
Señala que alrededor de 80% de las armas decomisadas en México el año pasado tenía su origen en Estados Unidos, y que este enorme negocio preocupa no solamente por sus consecuencias en México, sino también por su impacto en la lucha de las organizaciones que buscan imponer mayores controles a nivel doméstico.
Estas organizaciones, que enfrentan poderosos enemigos, como la National Rifle Association (NRA), “están muy decepcionadas” porque “esperaban que el gobierno de Obama trajera mejoras” en este terreno.
“Aunque el presidente Obama inicialmente prometió tomar una posición más dura contra el tráfico de armas –indica el informe, su gobierno hizo poco para enfrentar el problema”.
De todas maneras, el Coha reconoce que la Casa Blanca enfrenta “potentes intereses”, representados por ejemplo por la NRA, que bloquea con éxito cualquier intento de modificar las leyes estadunidenses contra el tráfico de armas.

Los “straw purchases”

En ese mismo sentido se expresó esta semana el diputado Elijah Cummings, de Maryland, el máximo representante demócrata en el Comité de Supervisión y Reforma Gubernamental, quien realizó una serie de controvertidas audiencias sobre el caso “Rápido y Furioso”.
Un extenso informe preparado por el equipo de Cummings también vincula fuertemente la cuestión del tráfico de armas hacia México con las blandas leyes que controlan la venta en Estados Unidos.
Los colaboradores de Cummings apuntan en particular hacia los castigos “completamente inadecuados” para aquellos que llevan adelante las llamadas straw purchases o compras de armamentos por parte de personas con licencia, para ser entregadas de manera conciente y arreglada de antemano a terceros que no cuentan con esos permisos, en general traficantes.
“Muchos agentes de las fuerzas de seguridad que se presentaron ante el comité –indica el informe de la oficina del diputado por Maryland– advirtieron que las actuales penas” para aquellos encontrados culpables de straw purchases son “completamente inadecuadas tanto para refrenar compras ilegales antes de que ocurran como para alentar a los sospechosos a colaborar con las fuerzas de seguridad después de los hechos”.
Los straw purchases están precisamente en el centro del caso “Rápido y Furioso”, el cinematográfico nombre de una operación del ATF que permitió el ingreso a México de unas 2 mil armas de fuego, cuyo recorrido supuestamente debió ser controlado por los agentes hasta llegar a las manos de presuntos narcotraficantes, y permitir así arrestarlos.
Pero la dificultad para rastrear las armas –a causa de las facilidades para adquirirlas en Estados Unidos a través de compradores fantasmas– provocó que los funcionarios federales perdieran la pista de los armamentos y terminarán siendo utilizadas para matar un número indeterminado de personas, entre ellos al agente Brian Terry.
El informe preparado para Cummings afirma que “sin mejoras” en la legislación local “el flujo de armas estadunidenses seguirá alimentando la violencia en México y en Estados Unidos”.
También indica que los narcotraficantes mexicanos ya convirtieron al país vecino en una especie de centro comercial para sus compras de armas “favoritas”. Las facilidades al otro lado de la frontera permitieron que los carteles pasaran, por ejemplo, de las armas de fuego de mano a los “rifles semi-automáticos y otras armas de graduación militar”.
Las armas estadunidenses, indica el reporte de la oficina de Cummings, “están alimentando un torrente de violencia en México”.
Por su parte, el reporte del Coha califica al caso “Rápido y Furioso” como “una debacle” que “echa todavía más dudas sobre la capacidad” de las fuerzas de seguridad estadunidenses “para contener el flujo de armas hacia México”.
“El gobierno de Obama –recuerda– ya fue ampliamente criticado por sus tibios intentos de prevenir que armas de fuego entren a México, y la fallida operación ‘Rápido y Furioso’ simplemente subrayó lo que ya se sabía” sobre el supuesto “compromiso” de Washington contra el tráfico.

“Medidas apropiadas”

Consultado por Apro, el especialista Alejandro Sánchez, uno de los principales investigadores del Coha en este terreno, dijo que “los grupos criminales mexicanos ciertamente están capitalizando el increíble fervor de los estados sureños estadunidenses por la Segunda Enmienda de la Constitución, que les permite portar armas de fuego”.
A eso “se combina que la frontera de los dos países aún no está bien monitoreada en ninguno de los dos lados”, añade Sánchez, para quien la magnitud de este negocio es “enorme”.
“Preguntarse cuánto dinero hay involucrado es como preguntarse cuánta cocaína es producida en Colombia, Perú o Bolivia: hay estimaciones, pero no creo que sean siquiera cercanas a la verdad”, señala.
Sánchez se declara convencido de que el tráfico desde Estados Unidos a México está claramente insertado en el negocio internacional de las armas. “Una forma de ver esta cuestión es analizar de dónde provienen las armas que utilizan los grupos criminales mexicanos”, propone el analista.
“Varias pistolas y fusiles se fabricaron en Estados Unidos, pero obviamente hay más, como las famosas AK-47 que vienen de Europa del Este, no solamente de Rusia, que las fabrica, sino también desde otros países como Ucrania o Bielorusia, que fueron parte de la Unión Soviética y tienen todavía depósitos de armamentos que no son debidamente controlados por las fuerzas de seguridad.
“Pero un problema más grave todavía es el de los oficiales corruptos dentro de las fuerzas armadas y la policía o los desertores que venden armamento a grupos criminales”, advierte el analista.
“Que quede claro que esto no solamente pasa en México –dice Sánchez–, sino también en varios países de la región, como Perú, donde se descubrió que armamento del ejército, incluyendo balas y fusiles, fueron robados de depósitos y terminaron en el mercado negro en Lima”.
En la capital peruana, asegura, “se puede comprar un revólver de la policía por alrededor de 300 nuevos soles, unos 110 dólares estadunidenses, más o menos”.

El escándalo “Rápido y Furioso” incluso se entrometió en la conferencia de prensa que Obama brindó el miércoles 29 en la Casa Blanca, adonde aseguró que el ministro de Justicia, Eric Holder, “ciertamente jamás hubiera ordenado” el paso de armas de Estados Unidos a México.
“Hay una investigación en marcha y no voy a comentar” hasta que esté completada, indicó el presidente, pero “apenas esté terminada –prometió–, creo que se tomarán medidas apropiadas”.
Para Obama, la cuestión del tráfico de armas hacia México se está convirtiendo cada vez más en un fuerte dolor de cabeza doméstico. “A la luz de la facilidad con la que armas pueden ser compradas y vendidas en Estados Unidos –denuncia Coha–, es increíblemente difícil, tanto para el gobierno de Washington como para el de México, prevenir que esos armamentos terminen en las manos de contrabandistas”.
El reporte indica que el gobierno estadunidense “enfrenta una tremenda dificultad para balancear los derechos garantizados por la Segunda Enmienda con los reclamos de seguridad nacional e internacional”. Pero, “para cumplir con su parte en la lucha contra la devastadora violencia que se está desatando en México, el gobierno de Estados Unidos debe hacer más para monitorear la venta y posesión de armas dentro de sus fronteras”, completa.
De todas maneras, las posibilidades de que las fuerzas de seguridad de Estados Unidos y de México puedan contar con leyes más duras que castiguen a los compradores fantasma y a los contrabandistas estadunidenses son muy bajas, especialmente si se tiene en cuenta que los cárteles de narcotraficantes cuentan con un poderoso aliado, la NRA, que ya desde el año pasado viene bloqueando los esfuerzos de la ATF en el Congreso de Washington.
La NRA cuenta con unos 250 millones de dólares anuales en sus arcas y es considerada una de las organizaciones de cabildeo más duras y efectivas del país.
Cualquier intento de poner un freno estadunidense al flujo de armas hacia México, parece condenado al fracaso de antemano.
Según el Center for Responsive Politics, un grupo que sigue de cerca el dinero de los cabilderos e intereses especiales en el Congreso de Estados Unidos, la NRA gasta hasta 3 millones de dólares en aportes de campaña cada año.