Monday, March 19, 2018

Providence: Paraguay’s EPP Insurgency Frees Mennonite Hostages: An Analysis

"Paraguay’s EPP Insurgency Frees Mennonite Hostages: An Analysis"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy
1 March, 2018
Originally published:

On February 5, Bernhard Blatz and Franz Hiebert, two Mennonites kidnapped by the Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army, or EPP), were finally freed. The EPP, a Paraguayan terrorist organization, is well known for its operations against Paraguay’s civilians and security forces, and the country’s Mennonite community has become a particular target of its violence, adding a new dimension to the internal conflict of this land-locked South American nation.
This development raises an important question: how should the Paraguayan government address the EPP’s threat to security?

A Brief History of the EPP
The violent movement adopted the name EPP in 2008, though in reality its origins trace back to the early 1990s when it was a splinter group of the Paraguayan Marxist organization Partido Patria Libre (Free Fatherland Party, or PPL).

The EPP claims to have a Marxist Leninist ideology and also glorifies Paraguayan heroes like José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia and Francisco Solano Lopez. Estimates of the movement’s strength vary greatly, though it probably has only a few dozen fighters who operate in the northern regions of the country close to the border with Brazil—i.e., Amambay, Concepción, and San Pedro departments.

While the group is not strong enough to carry out a successful regime change, over the past decade the EPP has carried out robberies, attacks on property, and other attacks against security forces and civilians alike. The most high-profile murder attributed to the group is that of Cecilia Cubas, daughter of former Paraguayan President Raul Cubas. She was kidnapped in late 2004, and her body was found in early 2005, even after a ransom was paid. While the EPP did not officially exist at the time as an organization, the crime is attributed to individuals who would later form the terrorist movement. More recently, the EPP ambushed a military patrol in August 2016, killing eight troops. Furthermore, in August 2015 it kidnapped Abraham Fehr, who died in captivity—his remains were located earlier this year. According to a January 2018 article by the news agency, since 2008 the EPP is accused of the deaths of 21 armed forces personnel, 13 police officers, and 27 civilians.

Such violence has prompted the Paraguayan government to implement an increasingly larger response. Now a joint task force (Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta, or FTC), a combination of units from the police and military, has been deployed to combat the EPP. Paraguayan media has been fairly critical of the FTC, as it has been unable to defeat the insurgents. For instance, in 2015, before the 2016 ambush, the Paraguayan daily ABC published an article boldly titled “The EPP is no longer afraid of the FTC.”

This development deserves more discussion. Is it desirable or even ethical for Asuncion to continue deploying the country’s armed forces for internal security operations? After all, Latin America has a troubling record, to put it mildly, when it comes to security forces, particularly armies, committing human rights abuses when deployed to crack down on insurgent movements or respond to other domestic security threats. The Central American wars during the Cold War are a prime example of this problem.

The conundrum that the Paraguayan government faces is choosing one of two evils. Either it lets the police handle the EPP, which has not worked so far as evidenced by ongoing attacks and violence, or Asuncion deploys the armed forces, which could risk greater human rights abuses and repression. A government’s duty is to protect the nation’s population, but is the risk of inevitable added violence, even if meant to stop the EPP, in the best interest of Paraguay’s population?

The Mennonites as a Target
It is important to highlight that EPP insurgents have particularly targeted Paraguay’s Mennonite community, as the 2017 kidnappings (in separate incidents) of Franz Hiebert and Father Bernard Blatz and the 2015 kidnapping of the late Abraham Fehr exemplify.

Additionally, Mennonite communities in Paraguay have reported to local media that they are forced to pay EPP insurgents a “revolutionary tax” (in other words, they are the victims of extortion) and follow their orders. For example, the Paraguayan news agency Ultima Hora reported in mid-December 2017 that Mennonite communities gave food to local non-Mennonite towns as part of the negotiations to free Hiebert and Blatz. Moreover, the two individuals’ families reportedly paid USD$750,000 and USD$500,000 in ransoms. This development calls into question, once again, the FTC’s effectiveness as it was unable to locate and free the hostages.

It is unclear to me if the Mennonites are being specifically targeted because of their religious beliefs or because they are civilians living in areas where the EPP operates and security forces do not have a strong presence. I would cautiously theorize that this situation may be a combination of both theories. After all, other Latin American insurgent groups routinely exploit defenseless and isolated populations to utilize them as slave labor or fighters.

Additionally, the insurgents’ extreme ideologies put them in direct confrontation with religious beliefs. This was perhaps best exemplified in Peru during the 1980s and 1990s when the terrorist movement Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path, or SL) targeted religious leaders. Deaths caused by SL include the 1991 murders of Franciscan priests Miguel Tomaszek and Zbigniew Strzalkowski from Poland and Alessandro Dordi from Italy. Sendero also targeted Peru’s Evangelical community—as the 1991 massacre of 36 Evangelicals in Ccano, Ayacucho, horrifically demonstrated.

Final Thoughts
In the past decade, the Paraguayan People’s Army has carried out several operations that range from destroying property and conducting robberies, to attacking Paraguay’s defense and security forces. While this group is not strong enough for a successful regime-change operation against Asuncion, recent developments, like the 2016 ambush of a military patrol and Abraham Fehr’s death in captivity, raise the question of whether the internal deployment of Paraguay’s military is morally advisable, in spite of the potential for further human rights abuses.

Moreover, the EPP appears to have singled out the country’s Mennonite community for abuses. While a direct link between this group’s religious beliefs with the insurgents’ ideology is not clear, it is very likely the case.
Without a doubt, the rise of the EPP is a major security problem for Paraguay, and it must be defeated with a strategy that includes foresight, knowledge, and wisdom.

W. Alejandro Sanchez is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.
The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

IPD: Kazakhstan Expands its Role in Nuclear Security Issues

"Kazakhstan Expands its Role in Nuclear Security Issues"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
International Policy Digest
17 March, 2018
Originally published:

On 2 March, Kazakhstan signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), becoming the 57th state to do so. This move completes a first quarter of 2018 which has been very important for Kazakh foreign policy, as in January the country held the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the first Central Asian state to achieve this. Also in January, President Nursultan Nazarbayev met with President Donald Trump in Washington DC to promote U.S.-Kazakh relations.

While global nuclear disarmament remains a utopia, Astana’s signature of the TPNW is an important development and should be put in the context of said country’s nuclear security initiatives and its nuclear energy industry.

Promoting Nuclear Security

It is well known that the Central Asian nation inherited nuclear-tipped missiles after the collapse of the Soviet Union; Astana would go on to dismantle said weapons systems and facilities and joined agreements like the TPNW. The other post-Soviet Central Asian states carried out similar policies and nowadays there is a Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone treaty.

What is also worth highlighting is Kazakhstan’s interest in promoting nuclear security past its borders. President Nazarbayev has declared, “Kazakhstan’s non-nuclear status can serve as a guiding example for other states. I’m speaking from my personal experience. We created and strengthened our independent country, achieved high international authority, namely, by renouncing nuclear weapons and receiving guarantees of non-aggression from nuclear powers. We urge all countries to follow our example. We urged Iran at the time, now we call on North Korea. Nuclear bombs and missiles is not power.”

While it is unlikely that North Korea (the upcoming meeting between the North Korean and U.S. leaders notwithstanding), and other nuclear states, will give up their nuclear armament anytime soon, Astana’s interest in promoting nuclear security, as well as the recent signing of the TPNW, are commendable initiatives.

Astana, Washington and Nuclear Issues
Interestingly, there has been one development in Astana-Washington relations that deals with nuclear security: on May 2017, a Nuclear Security Training Center (NSTC) opened in the Central Asian state, a joint initiative between Astana and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. A 15 May 2017 press release by the NNSA explains that the center will be utilized to “train nuclear facility personnel in security disciplines, including physical protection systems, nuclear material accounting and control systems, response forces, and secure transportation.”

The two governments also signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement in August. Additionally, Presidents Trump and Nazarbayev praised the 2017 inauguration of a reserve bank for low enriched uranium in the Central Asian state. This initiative “seeks to decrease the risk of nuclear enrichment technology proliferation,” said a White House statement.

Meanwhile, Dr. Richard Weitz from the Hudson Institute in Washington DC explains that “the hope is that countries pursuing peaceful nuclear energy programs will borrow LEU fuel from banks to avoid the ecological and economic expense of manufacturing their own nuclear fuel through uranium enrichment, a technology that can be misused to make nuclear weapons.” In other words, Kazakhstan’s LEU bank could become a centerpiece in the quest for nuclear non-proliferation.

In spite of the current positive momentum after several high-profile visits, it is important to note that U.S.-Kazakh relations over nuclear energy are not free of tensions. Namely, U.S.-based uranium producing companies Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy have petitioned Washington “to look into whether imports from dominant uranium producers, like Russia [and Kazakhstan] pose a national security risk.” In reality, this request has less to do with “national security” in the traditional sense of the term and has to do more with the fact that the U.S. imports large quantities of uranium, from producers like Kazakhstan, for domestic consumption, which limits the profits of U.S.-based companies. It will be interesting to see if this request, which falls under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, progresses and if it affects U.S. imports of Kazakh uranium, and what effect, if any, could this have on bilateral relations.

Final Thoughts
Kazakhstan’s decision to sign the TPNW is a commendable initiative towards global nonproliferation although, sadly, countries that possess nuclear weapons are in no hurry to get rid of them. More important though is Astana’s growing role in nuclear affairs and its rapprochement with Washington on nuclear security and energy issues.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.