COLOMBIA NEWS – The Colombian Army has provided training to 75 Paraguayan soldiers to prepare them in their ongoing fight against terrorists and international drug trafficking organizations.
The cooperative training program is part of Paraguay’s ongoing effort to improve the professionalism of its security forces.
The School of Professional Soldiers of the Colombian Army (ESPRO) trained Paraguayan soldiers at the National Training Center of the National Army ( CENAE) at the Military Fort of Tolemaida according to a CENAE statement.
The Colombian soldiers provided three months of training in tactics, fighting terrorism, combating narco-traffickers, and providing humanitarian assistance. The three-month training program concluded Aug. 15.
The program included physical fitness drills, shooting practice, patrol exercises, and training in jungle survival skills.
The Paraguayan soldiers were greeted by Col. Raul Ortiz, chief of staff and deputy commander of CENAE .
Ortiz urged the Paraguayan soldiers to take advantage of the opportunity to “train and prepare to fight illegal armed groups with an Army which has attained worldwide recognition for achieving operational successes in fighting illegal armed organizations.”
The cooperative training program was proposed by the government of Colombia through its ambassador in Asuncion, Edgar Augusto Cely Nuñez, who contacted the commander of Paraguay’s Armed Forces, Major General Jorge Francisco Ramírez Gómez, according to news reports.
Colombia has “always supported” the Paraguayan military, Ramírez Gómez told Last Time.
The Colombian government paid for the expenses incurred by the Paraguayan soldiers.
Fighting the EPP
The training provided by the Colombian Army will help the Paraguayan soldiers confront the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), a terrorist organization which allegedly protects drug traffickers, smuggles cigarettes, and launders drug money, said Gustavo Duncan, a security analyst at the University of Andes in Colombia.
Because it attacks police and military forces, commits kidnappings, and claims responsibility for terrorist attacks, the Paraguayan government has classified the EPP as a terrorist organization.
For example, in August, 2013, EPP operatives kidnapped security guards at a ranch in Tacuatí and attacked police officers who responded to the scene. The attack killed five people, including one police officer.
In 2009, the EPP claimed responsibility for an explosion at the Palace of Justice.
Paraguayan authorities also suspect the EPP is involved in drug trafficking.
In August, 2013, Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD) confiscated about 1,800 kilograms of cocaine on several ranches in the northern part of the country. The cocaine had been shipped from Bolivia, authorities said. “We strongly suspect the EPP is offering protection to drug traffickers,” Alejo Vera, a prosecutor with the Public Ministry, said at the time. Drug traffickers cultivate about 48,000 tons of marijuana annually.
Drug traffickers transport about 80 percent of that to Brazil. Authorities suspect the EPP is protecting drug traffickers who are transporting marijuana to Brazil, Vera said.
Authorities suspect the EPP has formed alliances with regional drug trafficking groups which transport drugs to other South American countries.
The EPP has launched attacks against Paraguayan security forces for more than a decade.
The EPP operates primarily in the towns of Tacuatí , Ita Paso, Tacuatí Poty , Kurusu Iron, Fortuna, Arrochar, Tuyá Paso, Azotey Hoirqueta, Hugua Paso Barreto and Rhea.
Officials estimate that since about 2004, the EPP has obtained $5 million (USD) from kidnappings for ransom and extortion which EPP operatives refer to as the “collection” of “revolutionary taxes,” Total News reported on May 20.
The Joint Task Force (FTC), comprised of Paraguayan police and military forces, is confronting the EPP in the northern region of the country, including parts of the department of Concepción.
Other organized crime groups
In addition to the EPP, it is likely that Mexican and Colombian transnational criminal organizations, such as the Sinaloa Cartel and Clan de los Úsuga, respectively, are increasing their operations in Paraguay, according to security analyst Duncan.
While most of the drug trafficking in Paraguay involves the cultivation and shipment of marijuana, drug traffickers also use Paraguay as a transshipment point for cocaine coming from Bolivia, Peru and Colombia. Drug traffickers transport as much as 40 tons of cocaine a year through Paraguay, according to a 2011 United Nations report. Most of those drugs are eventually transported to markets in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the United States.
Organized crime groups produce about 48,000 tons of drugs every year in Paraguay according to the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD). The vast majority of the drugs cultivated in Paraguay are marijuana. Organized crime groups cultivate smaller amounts of cocaine.
There are about 5,000 to 8,000 hectares of marijuana fields in the country. Each hectare produces about 3,000 kilos of marijuana.
In addition to improving the training of its Armed Forces, the Paraguayan government is working to increase the number of soldiers in the military. Currently there are more than 4,300 soldiers in the Paraguayan Armed Forces.
The Defense Ministry is launching a campaign in 2014 to encourage young people to join the military. The Defense Ministry hopes to recruit 400 new soldiers by the end of the year.
Modernizing the Paraguayan Armed Forces
On May 8, the Armed Forces presented to President Horacio Cartes a plan to modernize the military’s equipment, including its weapons and vehicles. The plan covers the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
The proposal calls for an expenditure of about $600 million. It calls for the acquisition of fighter jets, helicopters, armored vehicles, artillery ships, radar and new technology.
The modernization program will help Paraguayan security forces secure border regions and fight drug traffickers.
“There isn’t a single radar to alert (security forces) about a violation of our airspace,” Maj. Gen. Ramírez, the commander of the country’s Armed Forces, told Defensa.com. “Drug trafficking has taken advantage of this weakness for some time.”
Training in Colombia will be helpful to Paraguayan soldiers, Duncan said. Colombian security forces have fought successfully against violent terrorist groups, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and drug trafficking organizations, such as Los Rastrojos.
Colombian security forces are among the best in the world when it comes to training, the security analyst said.
In 2013, Colombian security forces trained 7,679 police agents and Armed Forces members from countries in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. The Colombian security forces provided training in how to conduct patrols and criminal investigations; the best ways to gather intelligence; fighting drug trafficking, extortion, and kidnapping; and the protection of human rights.