By: Gustavo Zaracho / Source: rebelion.org / The Dawn News / June 28, 2016
Exactly one week after starting his presidency, on August 22, 2013, Horacio Cartes got Congress to pass the reform on the Act No. 1337/99 on National Defense and Homeland Security. The amendment allowed the new president to militarize entire areas of the country, through an Executive Decree and without prior approval by the National Parliament. The declared goal of this act was to “confront any kind of external and internal aggression that endangers the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the country”.
The modified law inaugurates a “soft” state of siege, which is not surprising in this decade of generalized soft coups. Paraguay was no exception to the trend: in June 2012, an institutional coup allowed Cartes, who is profusely connected to drug trafficking, to reach the power in April 2013.
The coup was justified as a measure to combat a guerrilla group called the Paraguayan People’s Army (in Spanish: Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo, EPP) which, throughout almost a decade of existence, claimed responsibility of several notorious kidnappings, burnings of machinery owned by soy growers and of some police posts in rural areas, as well as various shootouts with police and military forces. In the days before the militarization, they also vindicated the murder, in a confusing episode, of five private guards on a farm in Tacuati, a city located about 350 km north of the capital. That incident was the basis for the approval of the measure.
The President, who used to promise a new direction for the country and boasted that nobody could write his agenda, after less than a month in government, inaugurated the new device by sending military forces to 3 departments: Concepción, San Pedro and Amambay.
A guerrilla in the soy fields
The EPP operates in a fairly defined area. Police and military sources describe them as a group of less than 50 people, which, in its most publicized interventions, showed no signs of having great firepower or a very sophisticated arsenal. The region in which they operate is one of the most deforested areas of the country, due to the intensive cultivation of GM soya; ie, great plains without significant woodlands: an area that does not seem too apt for the implementation of a rural guerrilla, or at least should facilitate the capture of its members.
In a few weeks, the presidency of Horacio Cartes will reach its third anniversary, and the militarization in those departments, has still not been interrupted. After all this time, his “anti-subversive war” has not eradicated the EPP. Furthermore, peasant communities were the ones who felt the weight of the military presence.
Many cases of mistreatment, abuse of power, police violence, torture and recurring corruption scandals involve the Joint Task Forces (police and military) that are operating in the area, and whose funding, by the way, is extremely costly to the public coffers and is made at the expense of much needed social policies in these and other departments.
According to social and human rights organizations, the arrival of the Joint Task Forces created a climate of terror in rural communities, a feeling that reminds of the dictatorship, with a context in which anyone that opposes government policies or the expansion of the soya model is equated to a guerilla member or at least an accomplice and is treated as such.
It doesn’t require much incisiveness to understand the effect of such methods against a particular, strong and active peasant movement in the region.
The Drug Border
The city of Pedro Juan Caballero is the capital of the Amambay Department, which is one of the three departments militarised by a government decree.
Its strategic location on the “dry border” with Brazil (that is, a border which doesn’t run along a river), makes it a key point of the drug trafficking route in the region. It’s one of the front doors to the giant Brazilian market, and Brazil is in turn a way into other continents through the Atlantic Ocean.
That gave the city an infamous reputation as the base of operations of various drug kingpins from Brazil and Paraguay and it was the scene of notorious crimes. It was slowly ceasing to be under the media spotlight —until last week, when the city of Pedro Juan Caballero was the scenario of a spectacular attack against a narco chief, which took place in plain view, on the street. The drug trafficker, named Jorge Rafaat, was executed by a battalion of 100 hitmen —yes, you read that right, A hundred!— with military training and an impressive arsenal that included an anti-aircraft machine gun, which was used to pierce the armor of the van that the mobster was driving. He died of 16 bullet wounds in his body.
Jorge Rafaat, nicknamed “Saddam” (after Saddam Hussein), was a 56-year-old Brazilian who was processed for drug trafficking and money laundering in Brazil, but lived comfortably on the Paraguayan side of the dry border.
Moreover, the head of the SENAD (National Anti-Drug Secretariat) said that he was aware of the criminal activities of Rafaat, but they hadn’t enough evidence to take him to prison, therefore, he was free as a bird and he was regarded as a “successful businessman”. Who knows, maybe if he had naturalized he could have even ran for an office in the State or even for the presidency.
But, in all seriousness, the argument of the “lack of evidence” to take someone to prison is at least unconvincing if we take a look at the modus operandi of the Paraguayan justice system and the prosecutor’s office, which are not precisely known for their high standards in this matter. These days they are about to condemn with up to 40 years in prison a group of peasants who are accused of participating in the obscure massacre of Curuguaty, a tragic event that served as an alibi for the soft coup against the government of Fernando Lugo, without a single piece of evidence to formally incriminate any of the defendants, in a legal proceeding full of with aberrations and violations. Which proves that when there there’s a will, there’s a way.
Drugs and Soybeans
At this point, it’s difficult not to compare the militarization and the government action between the three aforementioned departments. While in Concepcion and San Pedro —two departments deeply impacted by the increase of monoculture of genetically modified soybeans and its effects on the ecosystem and population— repression seems to be focused on the poor rural communities and peasant organizations which are resisting this new agrarian model, with the pretext of fighting against a shabby guerrilla. In the Amambay Department, where the main problem is the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics, and which has powerful dealers in the capital city who wage an open war under the authorities’ noses, the response is a silence that reminds of the omertà (a mafia code of honor that upholds values such as silence, non-cooperation with authorities, and non-interference in the illegal actions of others).
The President refused to say nothing about what had happened. The Defense Minister, Diógenes Martinez, said that drug-trafficking doesn’t constitute a problem for National Security or a risk for the territorial integrity, and that the military must remain focused on cases of “terrorism” by the EPP. As for the Interior Minister, he remains in charge despite his complete lack of effectiveness, something that is beyond understanding.
To crown this chaotic situation, the chief of the Secretary of Counternarcotics has resigned from his role, pressured by the citizens after his agents shot at a family, killing a 3-year-old girl, and leaving a young boy in critical state.
This summary, though brief and incomplete, is enough to make clear who the real enemies of this government are.