(CNN Spanish) — The femicide of María Belén Bernal, in Quito, Ecuador, generated a wave of indignation in that country, which led thousands of people to protest outside the Police Headquarters near the Ecuadorian capital, where the woman was seen by last time.
Bernal’s husband is a suspect and is on the run.
In the last hours the authorities found the lifeless body of María Belén Bernal. This case shocked the country and generated reactions in the upper echelons of the government.
This is what we know.
The disappearance and death of María Belén Bernal
Lawyer María Belén Bernal, 34, entered the Superior Police School on the outskirts of Quito on the night of September 11, where her husband worked as an instructor. That was the last time that her family saw her alive, because since then, she has not been heard from again.
Bernal disappeared from Ecuador’s main police training school, a symbol of the country’s security, a fact that aroused the ire of many in this country.
The woman was a trial attorney who devoted several years of her career to criminal law. Her husband, police lieutenant Germán Cáceres, whom she married in 2017, filed a complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office two days after Bernal’s disappearance. However, according to the Prosecutor’s Office, there were many inconsistencies in her statement, so she requested surveillance and follow-up for him.
“No one, absolutely no one, is prepared for their son to be harmed. I don’t know why he did it,” said Elizabeth Otavalo, mother of María Belén. “Where is my daughter?” the woman asked, as she pointed out Cáceres’ disappearance to the alleged suspect.
The authorities said that the woman’s entrance to the Higher Police School was recorded, but not her departure, and that there is a record of a vehicle that Germán Cáceres was driving with tinted windows that was not reviewed.
Jocelyn Sánchez, a cadet who was arrested in the middle of this investigation, assured that she heard screams, blows and kicks in Cáseres’ room for 20 minutes. Sánchez was linked to the investigation and remains in custody as a suspect in the case.
According to Sánchez’s lawyer, the cadet was unable to react due to pressure and intimidation from Cáceres, with whom Sánchez would have had a romantic relationship; the defense denied that she was the only detainee in the case, until now.
This September 21, after 10 days missing, the Police reported that they found Bernal’s body on the Casitagua hill, in Quito.
Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo lamented Bernal’s death and offered an apology to the woman’s mother and to María Belén’s son.
The main suspect of the crime is missing
When announcing the discovery of the body, the Minister of the Interior, Patricio Carrillo, lamented the death of Bernal and, referring to her husband, Germán Cáceres, who is now a suspect in the act, assured that there will be no impunity. “We will find Cáceres where he is and we will deliver him to justice.”
Last Thursday, in statements to Teleamazonas, Carrillo said that Bernal’s husband gave his version to justice and then no more was heard from him.
“The subject was submitted to the administration of justice, he gave his version. In the version he did not merit, according to the Prosecutor’s Office, any initial precautionary measure, but so far he is also a fugitive from justice. We have carried out a search block to locate him and locate the missing person,” Carrillo reported before Bernal’s body was found.
Cáceres had a surveillance request arranged by the Prosecutor’s Office in the preliminary investigation process for the disappearance of his wife María Belén Bernal. So far it is not known if the notification of the process was sent to a defender of the suspect. CNN tried to contact Cáceres or his lawyer.
The Prosecutor’s Office insisted that the day the suspect gave his version, his surveillance and follow-up were requested, considering that there were “inconsistencies” in his statement.
The Secretary of Security, Diego Ordóñez, reported last Friday that there is an arrest warrant against the lieutenant and that the director of the Higher School of Police has been dismissed by order of President Guillermo Lasso.
Meanwhile, the general commander of the National Police, Fausto Salinas, said last Thursday that the suspect had not shown up for work for three days and that a dismissal process had begun. He added that the Ministry of the Interior and the Directorate of the Higher Police School will present a complaint to add it to the investigation.
On the other hand, the Attorney General’s Office reported last Friday that it carried out a raid in the area of the female platoon of the Higher Police School in Quito to execute an arrest warrant for investigative purposes of a cadet from the School, Jocelyn Sánchez.
Security Secretary Diego Ordóñez said she will be investigated to determine if she had any involvement in Bernal’s disappearance.
On Saturday, a judge issued a preventive detention measure for the cadet for “alleged involuntary disappearance” in this case and measures were issued in favor of relatives and the victim’s son, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.
The case causes clashes between authorities and repudiation of the population
Bernal’s disappearance provoked a verbal confrontation between authorities and representatives of security institutions and generated the rejection of the population that demands justice for the act.
As soon as the discovery of the body of María Belén Bernal was confirmed, hundreds of women and men walked to the Police Headquarters in Quito to protest against the femicide of María Belén Bernal. This group of people with candles in their hands, posters and messages, sang “song without fear” with some arrangements for Ecuador, as a symbol of solidarity and pain after the death of Bernal and other women.
Hundreds of people, mostly women, joined the sit-in carrying signs and white candles protesting the woman’s death. Several of them described the uniformed men as “murderers” and others demanded justice for the cases of femicide that are registered in the country, Reuters reported.
In the middle of the demonstration, the entrance door was attacked by women who launched slogans rejecting the institution after Bernal’s murder.
The case that has shocked public opinion, also generated an exchange of statements between the Prosecutor’s Office and government officials within the investigation.
First, the Ecuadorian Police reported Bernal’s disappearance on September 11. The State Attorney General’s Office reported that it has been aware of the case since September 13, based on the complaint by Lieutenant de Cáceres, Bernal’s husband, and whom the Attorney General’s Office now considers a suspect.
After the complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office by Cáceres two days after Bernal’s disappearance, the Prosecutor’s Office found inconsistencies in the man’s statement, for which he requested surveillance and follow-up for him. However, this was not fulfilled due to a bureaucratic obstacle, since the Police said that the request from the Prosecutor’s Office did not arrive on time, and the man had already fled.
In social networks and in the streets, reactions of rejection and repudiation of the actions surrounding the case of María Belén Bernal have been generated. Especially after the statement by the Minister of the Interior, Patricio Carrillo, who described the case of the disappearance of lawyer Bernal as a “human act”, in his statements to Teleamazonas:
“We are very sorry that this act has happened, which is human, irrational, but it is human and in general terms we are working together with the family so that all available information is delivered transparently,” said Carrillo.
Ecuador’s attorney general, Diana Salazar, said last Thursday at a press conference that the way the case is being handled by the National Police is unfortunate because so far the institution has not submitted an official report of what happened inside of the Higher School of Police.
“I have warned the Minister of the Interior, Patricio Carrillo, that this person must appear. A woman cannot disappear in a police station. Law enforcement officers have a state obligation to find people, not to disappear them, and even less so in a regiment that is absolutely controlled by these state agents,” emphasized prosecutor Salazar.
“We know that they have lost control of the follow-up and surveillance of the now suspect, that is not a responsibility of the Prosecutor’s Office but rather of the National Police. The one who executes the follow-up is the Police”, he added.
The president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, expressed his condolences on social networks, saying that Bernal’s femicide “will not go unpunished and all those responsible will be subject to the law”, but feminist organizations ask that no more “condolences” be sent. and rather act to prevent further violence against women.
— With information from Ana María Cañizares from Quito and Reuters.