ASUNCION – The Paraguayan Senate completed Saturday the legislative process of declaring a state of emergency in five of the country’s provinces, a move requested three days ago by President Fernando Lugo in order to pursue an armed leftist group.
The upper house in a special session unanimously approved the changes made Friday by the lower house to a bill it had endorsed in its regular session on Thursday.
The speaker of the upper house, opposition Senator Miguel Carrizosa, said that Congress is giving “the tools” to the head of state to “neutralize the EPP (Paraguayan People’s Army) that is doing so much harm” in the northern part of the country, where, according to the lawmaker, “there is fear” because “people don’t know who will be the next victim.”
The state of emergency covers the provinces of Concepcion, San Pedro, Amambay, Alto Paraguay and Presidente Hayes, the last two in the western Chaco region, and will remain in force for 30 days and not for 60 as requested by Lugo, whose bill was rejected by the Senate, which then set about preparing its own.
For their part, the lawmakers barred those arrested while the measure is in effect, and who are under judicial investigation, from making use of such legal provisions as leaving the country as refugees.
Lugo asked Congress for the measure after the death of a police officer, two peasants and a guard in an attack that took place on April 21 at the Arroyito ranch in the district of Horqueta, some 380 kilometers (236 miles) north of Asuncion, in Concepcion province.
The incident was attributed to the leftist group that calls itself the Paraguayan People’s Army, or EPP, and which operates in the country’s northern jungles, chiefly in Concepcion on the Brazilian border.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, the leaders of the EPP have been trained by Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group to carry out kidnappings and other crimes, including the slaying of civilians and police, as well as attacking military units and farms.
Lugo, a former Catholic bishop who was released from his vows by the Vatican in an unprecedented move, was inaugurated on Aug. 15, 2008, after winning the election at the head of a broad-based coalition.
His victory brought an end to 61 years of rule by the Colorado Party, including the repressive and spectacularly corrupt 1954-1989 dictatorship of the late Alfredo Stroessner.