Paraguay: activists arrested in guerilla scare

On Feb. 6 police arrested six leftist activists in the community of Antebi Cue, town of Sgto. Jose Felix Lopez (also known as Puentesinho), in San Carlos municipality in the northeastern Paraguayan department of Concepcion, near the border with Brazil. The six were in a Toyota SUV owned by the Campesino Organization of the North (OCN); police say they were carrying food, medicines, ammunition and explosives. Police confiscated the vehicle.

Those arrested included OCN education secretary Alejandro Ramos and OCN treasurer Isidoro Bazan Gonzalez; the other four are all siblings of fugitives accused in the September 2004 kidnapping and subsequent murder of Cecilia Cubas Gusinsky, daughter of Paraguayan ex-president Raul Cubas Grau. The government claims the arrested activists were bringing supplies to the fugitives. The government has accused the leftist Free Homeland Party (PPL) of orchestrating both the Cubas kidnapping and the November 2001 kidnapping of Maria Edith Bordon de Debernardi, who was freed unharmed in January 2002 following a ransom payment. Attorney General Ruben Candia Amarilla said those arrested on Feb. 6 are part of a leftist rebel organization linked to the Cubas and Borbon kidnappings.

Maria Rosa Villalba Ayala and Liliana Elizabeth Villalba Ayala, both arrested Feb. 6, are the sisters of Osvaldo Villalba Ayala, a fugitive facing charges in the Cubas case; another sister, Carmen Villalba Ayala, is serving a jail sentence for the Bordon kidnapping. The other two people arrested on Feb. 6 are Pablo Roman Cristaldo Mieres and Celzo Sebastian Zarate Cardozo–brothers, respectively, of Manuel Cristaldo Mieres and Gabriel Zarate, both fugitives in the Cubas case. (La Nacion, Paraguay,Feb. 12; ABC Color, Paraguay, Feb. 19)

OCN president Isabelino Aguero and secretary general Del Rosario Denis said the arrests are part of a campaign of political persecution, and that members of their organization are accustomed to being persecuted. (LN, Feb. 12)

On Feb. 7, one of the police agents who carried out the previous day’s arrests was shot to death in an apparent ambush in a wooded area near where the arrests were made. First non-commissioned officer Oscar Antonio Noceda Sosa of the Sgto. Jose Felix Lopez police station was hit by 27 bullets. (LN, Feb. 12; ABC Color, Feb. 19)

Media reports and some government sources claim that Manuel Cristaldo Mieres is believed to be in the area of Sgto. Jose Felix Lopez with Magna Maria Meza, another suspect in the Cubas case, leading an armed group which ambushed and murdered Noceda. Such sources also claim that a growing number of campesino settlements in Concepcion have become a breeding ground for leftist rebel groups. However, National Police commander Fidel Isasa urged caution, clarifying that there is no evidence indicating the existence of guerrilla groups nor any links between leftist organizations and Noceda’s murder. (LN, Feb. 12)

Military and police patrols searching for Noceda’s killers said they found at least three sites where armed groups had apparently camped on the banks of the Aquidaban river. Nearby in Hugua Nandu, police searched the homes of several PPL supporters–including Mirna Beatriz Cristaldo Mieres and Natividad Meza–and confiscated documents and other belongings. (ABC Color, Feb. 19)

Msgr. Zacarias Ortiz Rolon, bishop of Concepcion and the neighboring department of Amambay, said poverty and other social problems in the region have the potential to breed armed resistance. However, he warned, “as far as the official interest in making believe that there is a guerrilla group and that it is fed by the Colombian FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], that seems a bit suspicious to me.” Ortiz also noted that there are drug traffickers and cattle rustlers in the region, “so the death of that officer we can’t yet be sure whether it can be attributed to this group of guerrillas or to groups of drug traffickers, with which the police often have to make deals or sometimes try to.” Sometimes such deals are made “at the level of the high commands,” the bishop noted. (LN, Feb. 12)

From Weeekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 19

See our last post on Paraguay.