A feminicide in a police academy scandalizes Ecuador – Liberation

A 34-year-old lawyer had been missing since her visit to the academy where her husband was a trainer. Eleven days later, his body was found nearby. Husband and suspect number one is on the run.

In the early morning of September 11, María Belén Bernal, a 34-year-old lawyer, entered the Higher Police Academy to find her husband, a lieutenant instructor in this officer training institution, located in the northern outskirts of Quito. No one saw her come out. Her family having reported her disappearance, a strong mobilization was triggered to find the young woman. Wednesday, after eleven days of research, the body of María Belén was found in a wooded area, a few kilometers from the school. Lieutenant Germán Cáceres, husband and main suspect, has been on the run since the start of the case. The government is offering a $20,000 reward for his capture.

“Profound pain and outrage”

Announcing the gruesome discovery on Wednesday, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said police “did his job and found María Belén Bernal”. “I deeply regret his death, which will not go unpunished,” he added. On Twitter, President Guillermo Lasso, currently in the United States, expressed his “deep pain and indignation”. He further expressed his “solidarity” with the victim’s mother and the couple’s 13-year-old son.

On Wednesday, rallies took place outside public buildings to demand the truth. placards proclaiming “feminicidal state” were brandished. To the cries of «Assassins, assassins» launched at the police responsible for supervising the crowd, were added calls for the resignation of the Minister of the Interior. These demonstrations resumed on Thursday morning.

The disappearance and then the murder of María Belén have occupied a large place in the press and television news in recent days. According to the first findings, the state of decomposition of the body indicates a death close to the day of the disappearance. Pending the results of the autopsy, many questions arise, in particular about the complicity of which the alleged assassin may have benefited to bring the body out of the school, then bury it. The establishment, which also trains policewomen, has suspended all its activities and its director has been dismissed.

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206 feminicides in 2022

Ecuador, where femicide is punishable by up to 26 years in prison, has high rates of gender-based violence. The Aldea Foundation counted, between the beginning of the year and September 3, 206 violent deaths of women “because of their gender”, including six trans women. In 53% of cases, the alleged perpetrator had “a sentimental bond” with the victim.

The case further undermines the credit of the police in the country, which is experiencing an explosion of urban violence. The public authorities and the police are accused of inaction and powerlessness in the face of this scourge. Neighboring the world’s two largest cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru, Ecuador was spared drug trafficking for a long time, before becoming a major center for the shipment of drugs to Europe and the United States a few years ago. -United. Mexican cartels have found in Ecuador a dollarized economy where they can easily launder their earnings, and authorities unprepared to deal with organized crime.

According to the latest annual report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ecuador, which has a population of 18 million, was in 2020 the third country for cocaine seizures, after Colombia. and the United States, or 6.5% of the 1,424 tonnes seized worldwide. And the country’s homicide rate has risen from six to fourteen per 100,000 people between 2018 and today, according to Interior Ministry statistics. The clashes between gangs have also spread to prisons and have killed more than 350 prisoners since February 2021.