Ecuador President Guillermo Lasso said Wednesday that the murder of Quito lawyer María Belén Bernal, 34, caused him “deep pain and indignation” and vowed that her killing would not go unpunished.
Lasso offered the comments shortly after authorities announced they had located Bernal’s body in a wooded area north of Quito.
Bernal disappeared 11 days ago after going to see her husband at a police training academy in Quito, where he worked. The husband, Germán Cáceres, disappeared shortly after giving police a statement that his wife was missing. Two days later, he was fired in absentia as an instructor. His motorcycle was later found near a border crossing into Colombia.
Bernal’s death sparked protests in a country which has reportedly seen more than 200 femicides this year. Hundreds gathered in Quito, Cuenca and other major cities, to memorialize Bernal and protest a lack of government action to protect women from abuse.
According to video records, Bernal entered the training academy early on the morning of September 11. There is no video or written record of her leaving the building. According to academy rules, no one other than cadets and training personnel are allowed to enter the building during non-working hours.
The academy’s director has been sacked and at least 12 police trainers who were on the premises when Bernal entered are under investigation. In addition, the government has offered a reward of $20,000 for the capture of Cáceres.
Ironically, the majority of Bernal’s legal work involved defending police personnel in disciplinary matters.
The only person arrested in the case, so far, is 24-year-old Joselyn Brigitte, whose academy office adjoined Cáceres’. Brigitte admits having an affair with Cáceres but says it was brief and ended due to the disruption it created in Bernal’s and Cáceres’ marriage.
Brigitte’s attorney, Gonzalo Realpe, says police suggestions that Bernal’s murder was the result of a “love triangle” are baseless. “It is true there was a short affair but it ended long before the crime was committed and played no role in it.”
Femicide — when a woman is killed because of her gender — in Ecuador is on the rise, according to the Aldea Foundation, which tracks the crime in the country. It says 206 women had been killed in Ecuador in 2022 by September 3. The Foundation adds that incidence of femicide in neighboring Colombia and Peru, are similar to that in Ecuador.
According to the UN, 65 out of every 100 Ecuadoran women have experienced some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime