On September 11, hundreds of women as well as members of various feminist movements and human rights organizations took to the streets of Ecuador’s capital Quito in rejection of gender-based violence. The mobilization took place one year after the femicide of lawyer María Belén Bernal by her spouse, police officer Germán Fernando Cáceres.
The protesters gathered outside the Ministry of Agriculture and marched to the National Police Headquarters, alongside Bernal’s mother Elizabeth Otavalo. They marched with placards and posters that read “Vivas Nos Queremos” or “We Want to Live” and “Ni Una Menos” or “Not One Woman Less,” raising slogans such as “Alerta, alerta, que camina la lucha feminista por América Latina” or “Alert, alert, the feminist struggle is marching through Latin America.” They demanded comprehensive public policies to prevent violence against women in the country, where a woman is killed every 23 hours.
A year ago, on September 11, 2022, María Belén Bernal, a 34-year-old lawyer from Quito, went to the Quito Police Training High School to visit her husband, Lieutenant Germán Fernando Cáceres, and disappeared from there. Ten days after her disappearance, her lifeless body was found on the Casitagua hill, located five kilometers from the Police High School.
The investigation into her murder revealed that she was killed inside the Police institution, then her body was taken from the place and dumped on the hill. Following which, Cáceres fled. According to testimonies of witnesses, after Bernal came to the institute, the couple had an argument, in which blows, noises, and shouts were heard from the room they were in for minutes. Some witnesses stated that Cáceres asked cadets for flashlights and scissors; while others reported that he moved a bundle covered with a blanket in his wife’s car.
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Bernal’s femicide, which involved the police directly, sparked widespread outrage against the State, its institutions and its policies.
On December 30, 2022, Cáceres was captured in the Colombian town of Palomino by Colombian and American agents in coordination with the Ecuadorian Police. On May 26, 2023, he was sentenced to 34 years and eight months in prison, which he is serving in a prison in Quito.
Still, Bernal’s mother Otavalo continues to struggle for true justice. She has argued that her daughter’s killer had support within the institution to cover him up and even help him carry the body, and has condemned the fact that no uniformed officer except the murderer has been sentenced for what happened.
“My daughter was killed inside the Police High School, it wasn’t on the street, let’s not forget that. It was at a police institution, at the hands of a police officer who was on duty and in the midst of many police officers who later assured that they did not hear anything,” said Otavalo.
She demanded that all those who heard the crime or covered it up should also be punished.
Nicoletta Marinelli, a member of the Aldea Foundation, condemned the fact that no other police officer has been sentenced so far as “an example of impunity, lack of response from the State and normalization of violence against women in the country.”
Geraldine Guerra, the president of the Aldea Foundation, in conversation with Prensa Latina, expressed concerns about the increasing insecurity in the country.
Guerra pointed out that Monday’s march took place after a weekend during which four women were brutally murdered in the country, one of them was a nurse, who was raped, stabbed, dismembered and buried in a park in Quito.
She stressed that with these new crimes, so far over 220 women have been victims of femicides in 2023, which will make this year the worst year for Ecuadorian women since the country began keeping records.
“It is a terrifying figure, we are facing a State that is unfazed by the violent deaths of women,” said the activist.
According to data provided by the Aldea Foundation, on average, a woman is murdered every 23 hours in Ecuador. So far in 2023 alone, 222 femicides have been recorded. 50% of the victims died at the hands of their partners or ex-partners.
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