About 200 members of the National Union of Educators and the Unitary Workers Front marched to Parque Calderon Wednesday afternoon demanding that the government pay its debt to the Ecuadorian Social Security Institute. Similar protests were held in Quito, Guayaquil, Riobamba and other cities.
Planned for weeks, the UNE and FUT, the protest was upstaged in Cuenca by a rally against femicide following the discovery of the body a Quito lawyer believed to have been murdered by her husband. A crowd of mostly women protesters replaced UNE and FUT members in Parque Calderon late Wednesday, calling for increased police and judicial protection for abused women.
In Quito, a crowd estimated at 2,000 protested the murder of María Belén Bernal on Wednesday night.
“Once again, the system has failed women in the case of our sister, María Belén, an innocent woman brutally murdered by her husband in Quito,” said Maria Rodríguez, one of the protest organizers. “Her murderer remains free after employees at the police academy protected him. This is a pattern repeated over and over in Ecuador.”
A leader of the FUT protest said union members decided to “stand down” in deference to the anti-femicide rally. “This is terrible news and we fully support the fight to protect women and strengthen the legal system against abuse,” Paul Morales.
Bernal’s body was found partially burned Wednesday morning, five kilometers from the Police Training Academy where her husband worked. Bernal was last seen alive entering the academy on Sept. 11. Her husband, Germán Cáceres, has been charged with murder but remains at large and police believe he may be in Colombia.
A 24-year-old woman who works at the academy and who admits having an affair with Cáceres has been jailed and police say they are investigating a “love triangle” motive for the crime.
UNE and FUT officials said Wednesday night the two unions are already planning future protests, conceding that Wednesday’s turnout was lower than expected. They blame a decision by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) and other unions not to join the protest for the low numbers.
According to Morales, the government’s unpaid debt to IESS, estimated at $8 billion, threatens the security of pensions for workers and has led to a reduction of quality and services in the IESS health care system.