German Couple Kidnapped, Shot Dead in Paraguay; Guerrilla Group Suspected

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A German couple who had been working as farmers in Paraguay for 30 years were found dead on Thursday, and authorities are blaming members of an elusive guerrilla group that threatened the owner of a neighboring farm just one week prior.

Roberto Natto, 60, and Erika Reiser, 53, were abducted on Wednesday, along with four of the couples’ employees, from their ranch 395 kilometers (245 miles) north of Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital. Natto and Reiser were killed around midnight, according to Interior Minister Francisco de Vargas, while the four workers managed to escape.

The workers described their captors as wearing camouflage uniforms and identified one of them as Esteban Marín, a member of the guerrilla group Paraguayan People’s Army.

The leftist group, which demands land reform and opposes industrial farming in the region, has kidnapped for ransom in the past, including a 17-year-old boy who was released on Dec. 26 after 266 days in captivity.

On Sunday, members of the group attacked the farm neighboring the German couples’ ranch, vandalizing two tractors and leaving a handwritten note demanding a payment of $300,000 and the distribution of free beef as a “fine” for alleged deforestation.

“Nature is not ours, it’s only borrowed from future generations,” local news outlets reported the note as saying.

Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes referred to the killers as cowards in a statement delivered Thursday, adding that “it is almost impossible to understand that human beings reach this level of cruelty.”

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

  • A gas explosion at a maternity hospital in Mexico City has left two dead and 73 people injured, after most of the hospital collapsed on Thursday.
  • A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has introduced a new bill that will erase all travel restrictions for citizens to visit Cuba, furthering the eased restrictions President Barack Obama announced two weeks ago.
  • The teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, attended by the 43 missing students has “been implicated in their disappearance,” according to InSight Crime, after an alleged leader of the criminal group Guerreros Unidos accused the college’s director of receiving a bribe the night the students went missing.

Caribbean

  • Members of a U.N. delegation to Haiti reported they they were “encouraged” by President Michel Martelly’s efforts to lead the government and the country’s newly formed electoral council, in a briefing to the Security Council.
  • Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives approved a bill authorizing government bonds or borrowing of up to $225 million for public projects, a reaction to the fact that the government is currently more than $70 billion in debt.

Central America

  • The leaders of the two largest gangs in El Salvador, MS13 and Barrio 18, announced in a joint statement that they have agreed to a truce in order to curb the country’s homicide rate, a move that InSight Crime sees as “intended to boost the gangs’ political clout” ahead of March elections.
  • Panama’s Supreme Court voted to open an investigation of corruption against former President Ricardo Martinelli over allegations that he inflated contracts for a government social program.

Andes

  • A Venezuelan general who has been in hiding since President Nicolás Maduro ordered his arrest last spring made a public appearance in New York on Thursday, where he says he is pleading his case before the United Nations.
  • Peru on Thursday trimmed its outlook for economic growth in 2015 from 5.0 to 4.8 percent, but the country remains an “emerging market standout” due to the balanced budget kept by its government, according to Bloomberg.
  • An airplane pursued by Venezuela’s military was downed on Thursday in the territory of Aruba, an official for the Caribbean nation said, adding that evidence of drug trafficking was found, underscoring Venezuela’s hard-line policy on shooting down illegal aircraft.

Southern Cone

  • Argentina on Thursday held a funeral for Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor found dead after accusing President Cristina Fernández of helping protect the perpetrators of a terror bombing, prompting cries of “Nisman lives!” from well-wishers and protesters on the streets of Buenos Aires.
  • After an eight-cent bus fare increase prompted protests across Brazil in 2013, an increase of 20 cents has, so far, failed to ignite a mass movement in São Paulo, where demonstrations have been confined to a small cadre of dedicated activists despite the fact that Brazil’s economy has taken a downward turn since the last wave of protests.
  • The investigation into a kickback scheme at Brazil’s state-owned oil firm Petrobras has uncovered some $800 million in illicit payments, a figure prosecutors on Thursday said is likely to grow.
  • InSight Crime examines the opulent “narco-churches” owned by drug traffickers in Paraguay, highlighting a trend seen across Latin America, where traffickers often adopt the aesthetics of Catholicism for their own purposes.

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