Overview: In 2019, the Government of Paraguay continued to be a receptive partner on counterterrorism cooperation with the United States. Paraguay’s challenges stem from ineffective immigration, customs, financial, and law enforcement controls along its porous borders, particularly the Tri-Border Area (TBA) with Argentina and Brazil, and its dry border with Brazil from the TBA to Pedro Juan Caballero.
Since 2008, persons claiming to be part of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) – a domestic criminal group initially dedicated to a socialist revolution in Paraguay – have been involved in violence meant to extort and intimidate the population and local governments in the northern departments of Concepcion, San Pedro, and Amambay. Paraguayan authorities officially consider the EPP and its offshoots – Mariscal Lopez’s Army (EML), and the Armed Peasant Association (ACA), which reemerged in May – as organized criminal groups rather than terrorist organizations. However, public discourse of Paraguayan leaders occasionally refers to them informally as terrorist organizations. The Government of Paraguay believes the EPP is a small, decentralized group of 20-50 members. EPP, EML, and ACA’s activities have consisted largely of isolated attacks on remote police and army posts, or against ranchers and peasants accused of aiding Paraguayan security forces. Ranchers and ranch workers in northeastern Paraguay, including members of the Mennonite community, claimed the EPP frequently threatened both their livelihoods and personal security. As of December 1, authorities believe the EML held one hostage: Felix Urbieta, who was kidnapped October 2016. In April, the Paraguayan Internal Operational Defense Command (FTC) found an EPP pamphlet claiming that police officer Edelio Morinigo, who had been the longest-held victim, was deceased. Although the FTC officially communicated the news to Morinigo’s family, the victim’s remains have not yet been found.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: Alleged elements of the EPP and ACA continued to conduct killings and sabotage operations:
- On April 21, five ACA members held seven people hostage for less than two hours in Concepcion department. They burned two pickup trucks, two tractors, and a horse cart. Before fleeing, according to the victims, they railed against the production of genetically modified soybean and corn.
- On July 8, around 20 EPP members, including leader Osvaldo Daniel Villalba Ayala, held hostage 17 employees of a farm located in Amambay department. The EPP group waited for the farm’s administrator to arrive and murdered him as soon as he stepped out of his car. The majority of the EPP group allegedly included indigenous individuals from nearby areas.
- On October 18, a bomb located in the back of a pickup truck exploded as it was driving through a rural road in Concepcion department. The driver and the other three accompanying persons were not harmed. On November 15, ACA members claimed responsibility for the explosion.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Paraguayan government continued to make use of a 2013 counterterrorism law that allows for the domestic deployment of the Paraguayan military to counter internal or external threats. The FTC, the joint task force charged with countering the EPP, consists of around 800 military, supported by 471 Paraguayan National Police (PNP) officers, as well as National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD) personnel. The PNP Secretariat for the Prevention and Investigation of Terrorism officially handles CT functions, although other PNP units and agencies such as SENAD work such cases as well, particularly when related to drug trafficking. In 2018, Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez inaugurated the new headquarters of the National Intelligence System (SINAI) service, composed of a National Intelligence Council (CNI) and a National Intelligence Secretariat (SNI), which report directly to the President. The purpose of the SINAI is “detecting, neutralizing and counterbalancing the actions of domestic and international terrorist groups, and of transnational criminal organizations.” The first meeting of the CNI took place on November 26, on the one-year anniversary of SNI’s formation. Military forces and police officials continued to operate jointly in the San Pedro, Concepcion, and Amambay departments against the EPP, with limited success.
On August 9, President Abdo Benitez signed decree 2307, designating Hizballah, Hamas, al-Qa’ida, and ISIS as terrorist organizations. On October 23, Congress passed legislation allowing the Paraguayan government to freeze assets linked to terrorism and its financing, which the president signed into law November 18.
On June 12, a court sentenced imprisoned EPP leader Alcides Oviedo Britez to 40 years in prison for masterminding the kidnapping of teenager Arlan Fick. On September 26, a court sentenced Reinaldo Zeballos and Santiago Mercado Sosa to 13 years in prison for “terrorist association” for providing logistical support to the EPP. On October 3, a court sentenced Maria Gloria Gonzalez, mother of EPP member Domingo Ovelar Gonzalez, to six years in prison for “terrorist association” for providing logistical support to the EPP.
The TBA has been attractive to individuals engaged in terrorist financing as the limited military, customs, and migration agency presence along these borders allows for a largely unregulated flow of people, goods, and money. Paraguay made strong efforts to provide more effective law enforcement and border security in 2019, but these efforts were hampered by a lack of interagency cooperation and information sharing, as well as corruption within security, border control, and judicial institutions.
Following the 2017 establishment of Paraguay’s Seized and Forfeited Asset Management Secretariat (SENABICO), more than $165 million in seized goods are now under SENABICO administration. SENABICO is charged with administering confiscated property and assets associated with criminal activity, including terrorism financing. However, interagency disputes and a lack of understanding of advance sale legislation have prevented SENABICO from auctioning any of the assets under its administration.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Paraguay is a member of the GAFILAT. Its FIU, the Financial Intelligence Unit-Paraguay (UAF-SEPRELAD), is a member of the Egmont Group. In 2019, Paraguay continued its work for the GAFILAT mutual evaluation, which started November 18. On December 26, 2019, the Paraguayan Senate had passed the last of a packet of 12 draft laws that would tighten counterterrorism finance enforcement.
Countering Violent Extremism: Paraguay had no CVE program in 2019.
International and Regional Cooperation: Paraguay continued to support counterterrorism efforts in regional and multilateral organizations. Paraguay actively participated in the Second Hemispheric Ministerial Conference against Terrorism meeting held in Argentina in July. Paraguay is a member of the RSM and hosted the RSM’s first technical meeting in November.
Paraguay participated in the OAS and its Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism. It continued to collaborate with Argentina and Brazil on border security initiatives, regional exchanges, and law enforcement projects. Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay coordinated law enforcement efforts in the TBA via their Trilateral Tri-Border Area Command.