Former police officer Germán Cáceres was arrested Friday night in Colombia and charged with the September murder of his wife at a police training facility in Quito. Acknowledging the arrest, President Guillermo Lasso said “the most wanted man in Ecuador will soon face the full force of the law.”
Cáceres disappeared September 12, the day his wife María Belén Bernal was reported missing. Bernal, whose burned body was found a week later in a ravine near Quito, went to the police academy to see her husband the night before and was not seen alive again.
Following a joint operation by Colombian and Ecuadorian police, Cáceres was located in the Caribbean coastal community of Palomino where he apparently worked as a bartender. “The arrest followed a variety of tips provided by individuals as well as information gathered through cell phone records and social media posts,” the Colombian police command reported. “Agents from the international police force Interpol assisted us in the investigation.”
According to the report, Cáceres had made various attempts to conceal his identify, growing a beard and mustache and obtaining credit cards with an assumed named.
Earlier, Ecuadorian police had arrested police cadet Josselyn Santos and police lieutenant Alfonso Cordero, charging them with being accessories to Bernal’s murder. Santos has acknowledged having a romantic relationship with Cáceres but denies any role in Belén’s death. Cordero was charged with destroying evidence, helping Cáceres in his escape and lying to police.
Police believe that Bernal went to the police academy the night of September 11 to confront Cáceres about his affair with Santos. It is believed the murder was committed shortly after her arrival at the academy.
Colombian police say that Cáceres will be extradited to Ecuador as soon as next week.
Public opinion of government hits a new low
According to a University of San Francisco project that tracks public opinion, trust in government has reached a new low in Ecuador. “We have never seen negative sentiment about the national government at these levels,” says project coordinator Fausto Escandón. “Overwhelming, the public believes the power struggle between the National Assembly and President [Guillermo] Lasso has caused gridlock on major issues facing the country, especially rising crime rates and unemployment. They place most of the blame on the Assembly.”
According to composite polling, the favorability rating of the Assembly stands at 5.8%, the lowest in the project’s 22 years. By contrast, Lasso’s popularity in mid- December stood at 31%, an increase of 7% over the August number. “The change in the president’s rating is based on the belief that he has a stronger position on fighting crime,” says Escandón. He adds that voters still hold the president accountable for the poor economy.
Over the past year, crime has become the most important issue for Ecuadorians, replacing unemployment and the economy, Escandón says. “Most or the public thinks the Assembly is more interested in protecting criminals than in prosecuting them. They also believe that some of its members have ties to illegal drug organizations.”
Conaie rejects army troops at mines
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador announced Thursday its objection to military troops being posted near unauthorized mining projects. Conaie President Leonidas Iza said his members are prepared to “take to the roads” if the government follows through with its military deployment plans.
“Because of its history of hostility to indigenous people, we do not want the army at mining projects near indigenous people,” Iza said. “The government is attempting to militarize the country to silence the voice of the people. It claims it is fighting illegal mining and drug trafficking but the true intent is to limit the rights of citizens.”
Iza said that Conaie had been considering new anti-government protests prior to the announcement that troops would be used to control illegal mining. “The government has not followed through on several promises made during negotiations in August and September so we are planning accordingly.”