RIO VERDE, Paraguay — A peace march of historic size and participation took place in September when thousands of conservative Mennonites from surrounding colonies took part in a demonstration in Santa Rosa.
More than 15,000 people marched to express opposition to kidnappings by Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army), a communist guerrilla movement known as the EPP.
About 1,500 to 2,000 marchers came from the nearby Mennonite colonies of Rio Verde, Mexico, Santa Clara and Manitoba, to march hand in hand with neighbors, joined by individuals from other colonies in Paraguay.
After a short program in the morning, the procession began, stretching several kilometers and stopping traffic.
Speakers repeatedly called for the release of five people held by the EPP, demanding the state government, police and military put more effort into the population’s security.
Three of the kidnapping victims are colonists. Abraham Fehr was taken more than two years ago, Franz Hiebert this past summer and Benny Blatz in early September.
Families and others carried large pictures of the men bearing phrases such as “Where is my papa?” Fehr’s two sons saw a picture of their father and sobbed.
Many participants were disappointed no authorities or senior government officials were present, interpreting the absence as a sign of disinterest.
Paraguayan media has highlighted the kidnappings almost daily. Just a few days before the march, ABC Color published a photo of a school’s blackboard stating, “We do not want any kidnappings, Mr. President, please release them! We want peace here in the north of the country.”
A niece of Fehr wrote the message. Her father, Aron Neustädters, told journalists his family will not leave the country because they want to support Fehr’s wife and children.
“It deeply pains us all what has happened here and is still happening, but we cannot and do not want to leave the country now,” he said. “We have to stay here to help and support the families affected by the kidnappings.”