ASUNCION – Relatives of Mennonite settlers Franz Hiebert, 32, and Bernard Blatz, 22, who are believed to be in the hands of the Paraguayan Army of the People (EPP) guerrillas, distributed food on Tuesday in a poor Asuncion neighborhood, allegedly as a condition set by the rebels for releasing their two hostages.
A crowd of residents from the Pelopincho neighborhood gathered before a truck to receive sacks of food, while antiriot police deployed in the area and set up a cordon to ensure an orderly distribution.
About 20 relatives and volunteers from Mennonite communities in northern Paraguay were in charge of the food distribution, despite the fact that on Monday evening a neighborhood committee from Pelopincho said that it would not accept the aid because they felt that it would constitute cooperating with the EPP’s “extortion.”
The food included 40-kilogram (88-pound) sacks of rice, sugar, pasta, cooking oil, flour, crackers and onions, enough to feed an average family for a month, one of the Mennonites told EFE.
Meanwhile, Peter Blatz, the father of Bernard Blatz, told EFE that he hoped the gesture would result in the quick release of the two men.
“The release can be immediate, but it may take several days. We can’t be sure,” Blatz said.
However, some local residents refused to take the food and said that doing so would make them “accomplices” of the guerrillas.
One resident who did not identify himself and refused to take the food told EFE that “It’s shameful for our people here in Pelopincho to sell themselves for five kilos of rice, a kilo of sugar. They’ve sold out.”
The distribution in Pelopincho comes a day after relatives of the two men made a similar gesture in two poor neighborhoods in the northern Paraguayan city of Concepcion.
Hiebert, of Mexican origin, was kidnapped by six unknown men in late August while he was working with a tractor on a farm in San Pedro province, and Blatz disappeared in early October after three men fired on the truck in which he was riding and took him away with them.
In early 2017, the EPP released Franz Wiebe, also a Mennonite, after kidnapping him months before and after his family distributed food in several rural communities.