Leftist Rebels in South America: decimated but not defeated

The inauguration of centre-right President Horacio Cartes of Paraguay on Thursday has soon be followed by the murder of five security guards at a cattle ranch in the San Pedro region by the leftist Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP).

The EPP is a relatively new organisation, founded in 2005, and has been linked with a spate of kidnappings, bombings and murders in Paraguay over the past few years. With links to the notorious Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), the EPP is critical of what it deems an elitist state ignorant and uncaring of the plight of the common man.

The EPP has escalated its armed operations in recent years
The EPP has escalated its armed operations in recent years

Over the past decade, left-leaning governments have been formed in several South American countries, for so long the home of military dictatorships and landed oligarchies. Hugo Chavez with his pioneering Bolivarian Socialism in Venezuela; Evo Morales and his poverty eradication drive in Bolivia; Rafael Correa’s refusal to subject Ecuador to capitalist debt demands and pursue a socialist nationalism. The ‘left’ has been given a political voice on the continent.

Perhaps because of the achievements of political socialist movements, militant leftist groups have seen their popularity wane. Farc, whilst still a menacing presence, is no longer a genuine threat to the stability of the Colombian government. Under Alvaro Uribe, military pragmatism coupled with massive social spending saw the communist rebels’ organisation and spirit crushed.

The Maoist Shining Path in Peru continues to lose key leaders in battle or to arrest and, like Farc and the EPP, has become associated with criminality more than a guerrilla insurgency. With support from financiers and politically-motivated donors in decline, these groups resort to extortion, political kidnappings and drug trafficking to finance their operations. As a political movement they have become virtually defunct.

Capture of its leaders (pictured) and poverty reduction have hit Shining Path hard
Capture of its leaders (pictured) and poverty reduction have hit Shining Path hard

Paraguay, like much of South America, has a recent history of autocratic, elitist rule. Under the dictatorship of Francisco Solano Lopez (1862-1870), the country was led into the ruinous War of the Triple Alliance against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. In a bid for territorial expansion, Lopez led 300,000 Paraguayans to their deaths and allowed the country to be devastated. At the same time he banned political debate, outlawing the Great Club of the People, a liberal movement that would find itself illegalised in various guises over the course of the next century.

Paraguay ultimately lost territory during the War of the Triple Alliance. Its legacy can still be felt today
Paraguay ultimately lost territory during the War of the Triple Alliance. Its legacy can still be felt today

With the exception of the inter-war years, liberalism and socialist notions were quashed in Paraguay. From 1954 until 1989, the country was ruled by strongman Alfredo Stroessner who stifled liberal support, accruing a vast private wealth at the expense of his countryman and making Paraguay a criminal state.

It is surprising that a radical leftist movement did not emerge before the EPP, one capable of waging a protracted war against the rigidly conservative and autocratic government, as has been seen in other countries across the continent.

Perhaps it is a testament to Paraguay’s delayed political development, kept frozen by the legacy of the War of the Triple Alliance and the long Stroessner years. Maybe the EPP is yet to evolve into the devastating movement it is to become.

Stroessner's despotism delayed Paraguayan development
Stroessner’s despotism delayed Paraguayan development

The geography of South America, with its inhospitable jungles, plains, mountains and highlands, makes it difficult to truly eradicate any hostile insurgent groups and criminal gangs.

Hopefully, however, the Paraguayan government of Cartes will learn from the history of the continent. With a combination of swift military action and, most importantly, a decisive and fair social policy, a leftist insurgency can certainly be avoided.

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Author: Stefan Lang

An interested observer of current affairs, researcher and writer

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