Paraguay paranoid as guerillas re-emerge

A supposed member of the rebel Army of the Paraguayan People (EPP), identifying himself as "Máximo Brizuela," called into radio station Primero de Marzo on May 10 to take responsibility for an attack that left four dead on April 21 at the department of Concepción. The supposed guerilla spokesman said he was calling "from the northern hills of Paraguay" (desde los norteños montes del Paraguay), and said the attack was carried out by the EPP's "Commando Number 7 Mariscal López." He stated: "This execution was a reprisal for the assassination of community residents" in the area of Guaraní-Santa Adelia. He added that "as protector of the people, the EPP will carry out reprisals...against the foreign landlords and their representative, Fernando Lugo," Paraguay's ostensibly leftist president.

After the attack, that left three civilians and a police officer dead, Paraguay's Senate approved a bill to impose a "state of exception," expanding government powers to crack down on a the rebels. The bill, signed inoto law by President Lugo on April 25, allows the government to order arrests and ban public gatherings and protests in the agricultural departments of San Pedro, Concepción, Amambay, Alto Paraguay and Presidente Hayes, which lie along the Brazilian and Bolivian borders.

President Lugo has meanwhile deployed some 3,500 extra police and army troops to the country's north, which is believed to a major marijuana-producing region. The impoverished South American country has recently emerged as a major cannabis producer (with the government crackdown on cultivation occasioning the predictable rights abuses). The troop mobilization, know as Operation Py'a Guapy—"tranquility" in the Guaraní indigenous language—has drawn protests from civil society groups.

Authorities say the EPP is suspected of links to Colombia's FARC guerillas, and the group is accused of at least four kidnappings since 2001, as well as bomb attacks on government offices and police stations. "We've got a security crisis on our hands," said congressional leader Miguel Carrizosa. "It's clear these people don't mess around and we agree severe measures are needed."

The last time a "state of exception" measure was imposed in Paraguay was in 2002, following violent protests against the government of then-President Luis Gonzalez Macchi. Such measures were frequently imposed during the 35-year dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner, which ended in 1989.

Fidel Zavala, a local rancher who was kidnapped by the EPP in October 2009 and held for 94 days, traveled last month to Bogotá to meet with President