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Ecuador: Former Football Referee Caught Smuggling Heroin to United States

Ecuadorians are devastated and surprised by news about one of their citizens: this past week, football referee Byron Moreno Ruales was caught trying to smuggle 6 kilos of heroin strapped to his body through the JFK international airport in New York City. Moreno has been a controversial referee, earning the nickname “El Justiciero” (The Righteous or The one who seeks justice). He wanted to run for the Municipal Council in Quito, and before he got arrested he was working as a soccer analyst in radio station Radio Sonorama and TV channel Canal Uno in Ecuador.

The attorney behind the blog Aura Neurotica [es] laments that Ecuadorian patriotism is made out of “paper, drugs, lies, tinsel, and drama,” and the classic “viveza criolla” (native wit or cunning).

Que vergüenza, que dolor, y que ganas de gritarle al mundo ‘no somos todos asi!!!’ Pero debemos asumirlo muchachos, la situación del arbitro caído en desgracia es la viveza criolla puesta en acción. Es 30 años de supuesta democracia y de los vicios que las corroen las que crean a un personaje capaz de dar noticias de fútbol y el día siguiente se pega 6 kilos de heroina en el cuerpo.

What a shame, how hurtful, and how I wish to shout to the world ‘we are not all like this!’ But we must accept it guys, the situation of the disgraced referee is native wit in action. It is 30 years of alleged democracy and the vices that corrode it, which create a character capable of reporting soccer news today and sticking 6 kilos of heroin to his body the next day.

On June 2003, Moreno retired from the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA). The former referee is mostly remembered for giving a very debatable penalty to Korea (see video) during a game against Italy in the 2002 World Cup. In that game Moreno also sent off Italian player Francesco Totti and annulled an Italian goal, as journalist Ruben Dario Buitron explains in his blog [es]. South Korea won that game and moved on to the Quarter-finals.

In his blog [es], Buitron also analyzes the media's reaction to the latest news about Moreno trying to smuggle heroin into the United States:

Este buen periodismo, en el caso de Moreno, presentó el tema con extremo cuidado, sin tratar de sacar ventaja de la supuesta estridencia del hecho y sin buscar ángulos amarillistas o sensacionalistas para vender más ejemplares o ganar rating.

Pero el otro periodismo, que no podemos negar que existe, olvidó una vez más que todos los seres humanos “noticiables” merecen respeto y que mientras más delicado es el tema, mayor rigor y menos adjetivos hay que poner en la difusión de los hechos.

Good journalism, in Moreno's case, presented the issue with extreme care, without trying to get advantage of the supposed harshness of the event and without looking for tabloid or sensationalist angles to sell more or get a higher rating.

But the other journalism, which we can't deny that it exists, forgot once again that all human beings that make the news deserve respect and the more sensitive the issue is, greater rigor and fewer adjectives should be added when spreading the news.

The blog Ecuador en Noticias [es] (Ecuador in the news) doubts that Moreno was acting alone; blogger David Guamba Torres suggests he could have acted because of pressure from other people [es]. He also questions the security in the Jose Joaquin de Olmedo international airport in Guayaquil:

Mientras tanto que las autoridades en nuestro país comienzan a culparse y hasta cierto punto hacerse los desentendidos, con respecto al control que se debió tener en el aeropuerto.
[…]
Pero, la verdad, es que los ecuatorianos ahora tendremos que “ser revisados” con más cautela al momento de viajar a otros países.
Un error de Moreno (o desesperación) que nos cuesta caro a todos.

Meanwhile the authorities in our country begin to blame each other and to some extent turn a blind eye with regard to the security control that should be in place at the airport.
[…]
But the truth is that Ecuadorians now will have to “be reviewed” with more caution when traveling to other countries.
A mistake (or desperation) by Moreno that costs us all dearly.

Andes [es] released a video showing Byron Moreno's actions in the immigration section of the airport. He passed the first two controls but he failed the third and was still allowed to board the plane. Jaime, in a commentary on Buitron's blog, criticizes the press for publishing this video [es].

Drug traffickers are known to use so-called “mules” to perform their illicit activities. In Ecuador, after a reform was added to the Criminal Code, people found carrying up to 2 kilos of drug are fined but are not charged like others involved in drug trafficking. The reform was taken because according to president Rafael Correa, “mules” are considered victims of the system; they are usually poor, unemployed and easily seduced by the drug cartels to carry small amounts of drugs in exchange for a minimum payment.

After enumerating all the jobs Moreno has held in Ecuador, Carlos Sagnay of Desde mi trinchera [es] concludes that he was not poor, and whether he acted as a “mule” or not, he still has to respond to American and Ecuadorian laws. He does the math and explains how Ecuadorians may become rich under the new law thanks to trafficking groups growing in the principal port, Guayaquil:

Entonces, las mafias del narcotráfico seducirían a las víctimas del sistema agobiadas por la miseria con un “mínimo pago” de $13,300 a $16,600, redondeados, por transportar dos kilos de droga avaluadas entre $133.333 y $166.666. ¡Manera rápida no sólo de salir del desempleo sino de enriquecerse y hasta convertirse en empresarios! A estos pobrecitos protege el presidente.

So, drug cartels might seduce victims of the poverty-ridden system to a ‘minimum payment’ of $ 13,300 to $ 16,600, rounded up, for carrying two kilos of drug valued between $ 133,333 and $ 166,666. A quick way to not only get out of unemployment but to enrich themselves and become entrepreneurs! The president protect these poor people.

Byron Moreno remains detained in New York without bail and awaits a sentence from 10 years to life imprisonment. Ecuador will ensure Moreno has a fair trial in the U.S.

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