Kidnapping and murders as Ecuador and Colombia's border crisis heightens

Imagen ampliamente difundida en redes sociales sobre los tres miembros del equipo periodístico del diario El Comercio asesinados.

“We will always miss our 3. #WeAreMissing3″ Image widely shared throughout social media of three journalists from the newspaper El Comercio whose murders were confirmed on the morning of April 13, 2018.

The kidnapping and murder of the three Ecuadorian journalists, Paúl Rivas, Javier Ortega and Efraín Segarra, allegedly at the hands of Oliver Sinisterra Front (led by FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) provoked an outcry and led newspapers to warn drug traffickers and terrorists to “never rest.”

The Oliver Sinisterra Front is a violent guerrilla group from Colombia led by a dissident known only by his alias “Guacho”. 

On April 13, the President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador was visibly emotional when he confirmed the worst case hostage scenario had transpired for the El Comercio journalism team.

“For El Paúl, we will never stop. We will never stop,  we will never stop, we will never stop…” journalists sang in chorus amplified by every media outlet throughout the country, between public gatherings, marches, and vigils.

A través de la campaña #NosFaltan3, los ciudadanos ecuatorianos exigían la liberación de los periodistas ecuatorianos secuestrados por disidentes de las FARC en la frontera con Colombia. Foto tomada de Notimundo.

“#WeAreMissing3″ Through the # NosFaltan3 campaign, Ecuador citizens demanded the release of Ecuadorian journalists kidnapped by FARC dissidents on the border with Colombia. Photo was taken from Notimundo.

Leonardo Ponce, a journalist from the capital city of Quito, analyzed events in a personal interview with Global Voices (GV):

What we now face as journalists, citizens, and as a country is a new problem for everyone, it’s taken us all by surprise. We were not prepared for something like this and the consequences can range from moments of collective fear to attempts at political destabilization.

Andersson Boscán, a Venezuelan journalist based in Ecuador for several years, also expressed his point of view in a personal interview with GV:

The journalism industry was previously an unseen support unit in an almost forgotten cooperation with the authorities, but at the same time it takes a national maturity to understand that today we do more than provide information; we manage lives and safety.

Ponce covered the news, from the confirmation of the kidnapping to the announcement of his friends and colleagues’ murders. Recalling those moments:

We knew it had happened, but we were clinging to a thin thread of hope. I was in Quito’s Plaza Grande when that thread snapped. I remember his words [of president Moreno confirming the killings] hanging in the air for a moment, and then the entire plaza just broke down in pain. There was anger, indignation, agony…

Boscán reflected back on April 13, 2018:

It is difficult to describe. In a way, when the ministers delivered the news, they did not do so before 50 journalists, but 50 victims, 50 people who thought to themselves, ‘it could have been me.’ So I do not believe that the coverage of it has been the best. We are too close, there is too much emotion in the media.

A second kidnapping on the border heightens the crisis 

On April 17, 2018, Interior Minister César Navas announced another attack by the Oliver Sinistierra Front while the bodies of the El Comercio journalist team were still missing. 

Ecuadorian citizens Oscar Villacís and Katty Velasco were kidnapped in the Esmeraldas province in northwestern Ecuador. According to the minister, proof of life was sent directly from “Guacho” to the authorities.

In a video shown to the press, the hostages asked president Moreno to fight for their freedom, “[s]o that what happened to the journalists doesn’t happen to us. We have nothing to do with this war,” stated Villacís in a harrowing plea for their lives.

As of April 24, the kidnappers have not communicated again with the Ecuadorian government, either to send proof of life or to demand a ransom. 

Ecuador no longer guarantees peace talks

President Moreno issued an ultimatum for authorities to capture “Guacho” by April 26. He warned publicly that he would ask those who were noncompliant to “step aside.”

Moreno also ordered that peace talks will no longer be held in Ecuador between Ecuador's National Liberation Army (ELN) and Colombian officials. Moreno stated:

I have asked the Chancellor to stop these conversations and our guarantee condition of this process for peace, because the ELN does not promise to stop carrying out terrorist activities.

Ecuadorian political scientist Pablo Ruiz Aguirre insists on the need to examine the complexity of the situation when he spoke personally with GV: 

The situation can not lead us to make hasty decisions, but we cannot make slow ones either, because that is where our capability at guiding outcome and handling crisis is seen. It is important to see the historicity of this problem, its context and what could come from it. Based on this, we must propose a new approach to fight drugs and violence, both in public policy and for military plans.

Ruiz argues that the real causes of the problem are drugs and their market:

History, at least of Colombia and Mexico, tells us that ongoing, direct fighting for several decades against them has generated nothing but more violence and retaliation. Even the UN [United Nation] is debating the legalization or regularization of the drug market. It is time to consider responses and the social phenomenon involved across every aspect, and propose solutions where drugs are not the focus, but the human being is.

A deeper history of conflict: Former Ecuadorian president allegedly linked to Colombian guerrilla group

On April 22, 2018, President Lenin Moreno ordered the investigation of former President Rafael Correa's electoral campaign for allegedly receiving money from the FARC.

The controversial relationship between ex-guerillas and Correa began in March 2008 when Colombian military forces bombed a FARC guerrilla camp in Angostura, Ecuador, killing FARC's second in command Raúl Reyes along with 23 people.

After recovering evidence from the hidden camp, including a computer belonging to Reyes, Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe made the information public, revealing an alleged link between the FARC and then-president Rafael Correa, who consequently broke diplomatic relations with Bogotá, Colombia's capital. 

A 2009 video revealed deceased FARC leader Mono Jojoy apparently talking about the financial contribution that ex-guerrillas made to Correa's electoral campaign in 2006.

Ten years later, as the security crisis on the border with Colombia heightens, President Lenin Moreno requested that the alleged contribution of the FARC to the Correa campaign be investigated during his second presidential term.

The murder of three members of El Comercio's news team revealed the failures of the Peace Agreement between Colombia and the FARC for Ecuador and it also reminded both nations how the border area has slowly been taken over by violence and drug trafficking.

As the two governments aim to recover the journalists’ bodies, release the couple recently kidnapped, and eradicate the border violence and insecurity that divides their countries, fear lingers on both sides. 

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