Crime & Justice

Lawyer’s murder puts spotlight on violence against women in Ecuador

Quito, Sep 22 (EFE).- The murder of attorney Maria Belen Bernal, allegedly by her police officer husband, has brought increased attention on the problem of violence against women in Ecuador.

An intensive search that went on for 10 days ended Wednesday with the discovery of Bernal’s body in a ravine near the police academy in Quito.

Bernal, 34, disappeared while on a visit to the academy to see her husband, Lt. German Caceres, who was an instructor.

The autopsy determined that the cause of death was strangulation, National Police chief Fausto Salinas said Thursday, telling Centro radio that the deed took place in Caceres’ quarters at the academy.

He said that Caceres tried to divert suspicion from himself by joining in the search for Bernal, “which did not happen because the work of the investigation, articulated with the Attorney General’s Office, has been very good.”

With all of the evidence pointing to Caceres as the killer, Ecuadorian Interior Minister Patricio Carillo has labeled the murder as a gender crime.

If his guilt is confirmed, Bernal’s death would bring to 207 the number of “femicides” committed in Ecuador this year, according to the tally maintained by feminist organizations.

The wake is being held in the theater at the Central University of Ecuador, where Bernal’s mother, Elizabeth Otavalo, has been trying to comfort her slain daughter’s 13-year-old son.

“Right now, my daughter is already an angel, but this doesn’t end here,” Otavalo told reporters Thursday. “This ends when the evildoers have paid for their crime. She died inside the Police School. Therefore, gentlemen, it is a crime of state. It cannot go unpunished. My daughter is not going to be just another statistic.”

While the National Police high command remains unchanged, the leadership of the academy has been replaced with an all-female team whose mission, according to Minister Carrillo, is to incorporate a gender focus into the curriculum.

A dozen members of the police are under investigation in connection with Bernal’s murder, including a female cadet who is being held without bail.

A manhunt continues for Caceres, who was released without charges last week after giving a statement to prosecutors. The government has posted a reward of $20,000 for information leading to his capture.

The AG Office said Thursday that searches were carried out at the home of Caceres’ sister in an affluent neighborhood of Quito, and the residence of a friend of the jailed cadet. EFE fgg/dr

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