Overview: In 2021, the Government of Paraguay continued to be a receptive partner on counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, though challenges stem from ineffective immigration, customs, financial, and law enforcement controls along its porous borders, particularly the TBA with Argentina and Brazil, and its land 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 conducted violent acts meant to extort and intimidate the population and local governments in the northern departments of Concepcíon, San Pedro, and Amambay. Paraguayan authorities officially consider the EPP and its offshoots — Mariscal López’s Army (EML), and the Armed Peasant Association (ACA), which reemerged in 2020 — 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 increased its Joint Task Force (FTC) presence in Concepcion Department following the EPP’s 2020 kidnapping of former Vice President Óscar Denis. The government has not located Denis, nor Felix Urbeita — the other hostage believed still to be in EPP custody — as of year’s end.
In 2021, attacks attributed to the EPP and its offshoots resulted in the deaths of three FTC soldiers, two police officers, and three civilians. The Government of Paraguay believes the EPP is a small, decentralized group of between 20 and 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.
2021 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist incidents in Paraguay in 2021 included the following:
- On June 12, six EPP members attacked a farm in the Sargento Felix Lopez district in Concepcíon Department, where they shot and killed Brazilian farmer Jonas Fernando Alves and wounded Elix Regina de Lima.
- On June 26, members of the EPP-ACA abducted Jorge Rios at gunpoint from his home in Sargento José Félix López district and demanded a USD $200,000 ransom from Rios’s family. On July 3, Rios’s bullet-riddled body was found in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
- On July 29, three FTC soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck an IED planted by the EPP on a road on the border between Amambay and San Pedro departments.
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 450 Paraguayan National Police (PNP) officers, as well as National Anti-Drug Secretariat personnel. The PNP Secretariat for the Prevention and Investigation of Terrorism officially handles counterterrorism functions, although other PNP units and agencies such as the National Anti-Drug Secretariat work such cases as well, particularly when related to drug trafficking. In 2018, Paraguayan President Abdo Benítez, inaugurated the new headquarters of the National Intelligence System (SINAI) service, composed of the National Intelligence Council (CNI) and the 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 in 2020. In 2021, SNI continued to serve as Paraguay’s lead authority for coordination of counterterrorism operations. Military forces and police officials continued to operate jointly in the San Pedro, Concepcíon, and Amambay Departments against the EPP, with uneven success. On August 2, the FTC conducted an operation that killed two EPP-affiliated members believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of a cattle rancher.
In 2019, Congress enacted Law 6379, which created a special court jurisdiction in economic and organized crime, including terrorism and terrorist financing. Article 1 created a new branch of the judiciary to adjudicate these cases to include drug trafficking, and specifically created judicial space for magistrate judges, trial courts, sentencing courts, and courts of appeal. Paraguay’s Supreme Court issued Resolution 8153 and Resolution 8263 in 2020, to appoint specialized criminal justice magistrates to these courts. The Special Court for Economic Crimes began hearing cases in 2021 and obtained several notable convictions, including the late former Senator Óscar González Daher for illicit enrichment.
The TBA has been attractive to individuals engaged in terrorist financing, as the ineffective — and often corrupt — police, military, customs, and migration agency presence along these borders allows for a largely unregulated flow of people, goods, and money. Paraguay’s efforts to provide more effective law enforcement and border security suffered from a lack of interagency cooperation and information sharing, as well as from pervasive corruption within security, border control, and judicial institutions.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Paraguay is a member of the Financial Action Task Force of Latin America (GAFILAT), a FATF-style regional body. Paraguay’s FIU is a member of the Egmont Group. GAFILAT conducted its fourth-round mutual evaluation visit in September and coordinated additional information requests with relevant Paraguayan agencies throughout the remainder of the year. GAFILAT will issue its final mutual evaluation report in 2022. Paraguay has counterterrorist financing legislation and the ability to freeze and confiscate terrorist assets immediately, if requested to do so by another government. FATF experts noted that Paraguay possesses an adequate legal framework, while noting that Paraguay falls short on implementation. In particular, government agencies struggled to coordinate effectively to detect, deter, and prosecute money laundering and terrorism financing. Implementation of the packet of 12 draft laws to tighten counterterrorism finance enforcement, which passed in 2019, remained incomplete.
The Paraguayan government registers and has reporting requirements for non-governmental organizations, including non-profit organizations, and mandates that NGOs set up internal monitoring and training to guard against criminal or terrorism financing. Paraguay also requires the collection of data for wire transfers. Despite these mechanisms, government agencies’ efforts to enforce anti-money laundering/counterterrorist financing laws continued to lag.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2021 INCSR, Vol. 2: Money Laundering.
Countering Violent Extremism: Paraguay had no CVE program in 2021. Police in Ciudad del Este (CDE) on the border with Brazil do regularly engage with the city’s large Muslim population. CDE’s Muslim community has not shown a history toward radicalization to violence; however, the police also lack the training necessary to effectively identify and address signs of violent extremism or understand the nuances of Islamic religion and culture.
International and Regional Cooperation: Paraguay continued to support counterterrorism efforts in regional and multilateral organizations. The country participated in the Organization of American States 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, although the closure of borders during the COVID-19 pandemic hindered in-person exchanges.
Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay coordinated law enforcement efforts in the Tri-Border Area through their Trilateral Tri-Border Area Command. Paraguay remained a member of the Regional Security Mechanism (RSM) established in 2019. The RSM, which did not hold meetings in 2020 or 2021 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to facilitate security coordination, including counterterrorism, between member states. In December, Paraguay’s Interior Ministry signed an agreement with the Interior Ministries of Brazil and Uruguay to strengthen coordination against transnational organized criminal organizations through increased investigative cooperation and intelligence sharing.