The Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), an insurgent group fighting against the state, released two hostages from the country’s northern Mennonite communities early on February 5. According to LatinNews, the EPP released both hostages after receiving a $1.25 million ransom from the Mennonites’ families in the San Pedro province of Paraguay.
Local residents discovered the two hostages on a ranch in the department of Concepción shortly after their release. At that time, Franz Hiebert and Bernard Blatz had been in captivity for over 16 months, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune. Both men remain in good health, though Blatz has spent several days in a local hospital due to fatigue. ey have both reunited with their families.
Paraguayan authorities discovered the body of Abraham Fehr, a third hostage, just weeks before Hiebert’s and Blatz’s release. Medical examiners believe Fehr died over two years ago after his family was unable to pay his ransom. Fehr’s death marks the first time the guerrilla group has killed a hostage.
The Paraguayan government did not engage in negotiations between the hostages’ families and the EPP. Government authorities hold that the ransom will serve to strengthen the EPP which has specifically targeted Mennonite communities in recent years due to their location on strategic routes for drug-smuggling, one of the rebel group’s key sources of income according to BBC.
The government’s apparent inability to combat the significant threat of the EPP and reestablish security in the northern provinces of Paraguay has undermined faith in current-President Horacio Cartes’s administration. The administration created a paramilitary task force, La Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta (FTC), to manage the threat of EPP guerilla fighters in 2013, but has not been able to limit the insurgent group’s consistent growth and continued activities. According to LatinNews, the EPP’s kidnappings and other crimes will likely affect Paraguay’s upcoming April elections for a new government.
The EPP claims to defend Paraguay’s poor communities from the supposedly exploitative Paraguayan state. As such, Ultima Hora reported that Blatz’s and Hiebert’s ransoms also included donations of food and other basic goods to impoverished peoples in the Concepción and Amambay provinces of Paraguay. The EPP has demanded similar donations in exchange for previous hostages from the Mennonite community.
While all the hostages held by the EPP have now been freed, the group remains active in northern Paraguay. The credibility of presidential candidates to combat the guerilla threat will likely become a signi cant issue as the group continues to threaten Paraguayan citizens both in and outside the Mennonite community.