Air Force mechanic warned of helicopter defects in 2009; Oil spill near Esmeraldas blackens beaches; Cuenca Orchestra director describes his firing

Jul 21, 2023 | 4 comments

In a new twist into the murder case of former Air Force Commander Jorge Gabela, a former mechanic claims he was fired for telling his superiors about mechanical problems with the Dhruv helicopter fleet in 2009. The purchase of the seven Indian-made helicopters as well as the Gabela murder is currently being investigated by the Attorney General’s office.

Steve Sampedro said he was accused of being “disloyal and a traitor” for sharing his concerns about the air worthiness of the aircraft with Air Force Colonel Carlos Endara. “I told him about the defects with the helicopters and recommended we suspend operations before the first accident,” Sampedro said. “For discussing my complaints, I was called a traitor.”

Four of the seven Dhruv helicopters purchased by Ecuador in 2009 crashed, killing three and injuring seven others.

Following Sampedro’s complaints, four of the seven Dhruv helicopters crashed, killing three and injuring several others. His complaints are similar to those reported by Gabela to the Defense Ministry and several government officials.

Gabela was murdered in his Guayaquil home in December 2010 following his criticism of the Dhruv purchases. Prosecutors believe his murder was orchestrated by other Air Force officers who took bribes from the manufacturer.

On Wednesday, the Attorney General’s office announced it has opened a criminal investigation for the possible cover-up of Gabela’s murder. The charges against five former government ministers involve the disappearance of a report on Gabela’s death by independent investigator Roberto Meza.

Those charged were members of the administration of former president Rafeal Correa and include former ministers José Serrano, Ledy Zúñiga, César Navas, Fernando Cordero, and Pedro Solines.

Oil spill near Esmeraldas blackens beaches
An offshore oil spill near Esmeraldas on Wednesday is being blamed on “human error.” Officials of the state-owned oil company Petroecuador said the spill occurred at the Balao terminal and that workers were dispatched immediately to contain it.

On Thursday morning, a military helicopter survey showed blackened waves and shoreline stretching for a distance of 10 kilometers south of Esmeraldas. The affected area included the popular Las Palmas beach.

Petroecuador said Thursday night that 90% of the oil had been contained but did not disclose the amount of oil lost in the accident. Residents in the area near the spill disputed the official statement, saying that local beaches were still covered in oil.

Esmeraldas environmental director Alex Benalcazar criticized government remediation efforts, calling the situation “urgent.” “This is polluting Esmeralda’s beaches and affecting people’s livelihoods. We need an immediate response for the clean-up.”

Orchestra director describes his firing
The former director of the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra claims he was fired for asking for pay raises for his musicians and for questioning the national Cultural Ministry’s decision to relocate the orchestra’s headquarters and practice facility adjacent to the Central Bank.

Fernando Vargas was fired last week by the Cultural Ministry based on claims of poor management. “It was the first time I heard of this since before I had been praised for my leadership,” Vargas said in a radio interview. “The real issue was my insistence that the orchestra members be paid the same rate as the members of the country’s two other national orchestras, in Quito and Guayaquil. My so-called mismanagement was my advocacy for my musicians.” He added: “It is true I was very vocal in my belief that Cuenca’s musicians are not being treated fairly.”

Vargas had also complained about the Ministry’s plan to turn over orchestra’s facilities to the Ministry of Education. “They told me they would provide a new space but there was no real effort to find one. They also said we could stay in our current building while it is being renovated but this is not feasible. We cannot practice when construction work is going on.”

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