Specter of Colombia’s FARC haunts Ecuador as reports of disappearances grow
By Fernando Gimeno
Quito, Oct 19 (EFE).- It has been more than three months since the family of Óscar López knew about his whereabouts. Like dozens of young Ecuadorians living near the Colombian border, he disappeared suddenly in an alleged kidnapping and forced recruitment by dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
“We are scared because we have also received threats, but it looks like they were extortionists. There are a lot of people taking advantage of the situation,” a family member of López, speaking on the condition of anonymity, tells Efe.
López, a 23-year-old cab driver who worked at San Lorenzo, a town in the north of the country, a few kilometers away from the border with Colombia, was last seen on June 29. He went to work and never came back home.
Days later, his car was found abandoned and with signs of violence on the road that goes from San Lorenzo to Colombia.
The only information that the family has received — from an ex-official who is allegedly in contact with the FARC, a left-wing militant group — is that Óscar is still alive, is with one of the armed groups in Colombian territory and that he will not see his family again.
In the province of Esmeraldas, the number of reports of missing people has risen in the last few years. According to the records of the State Attorney General’s Office, the numbers went from 24 reports in 2019, to 37 in 2020, and 85 between January and October 2021.
Lopez’ family allege police efforts are falling short.
When contacted by Efe, San Lorenzo’s Chief of Police claimed that the activity of FARC was limited to Colombian territory and referred to a similar missing person case in which they discovered that the kidnapped man had been in personal contact with these groups before. Lopez’ family denies any relation between Óscar and these armed forces in the past.
However, there is growing evidence of FARC presence in Ecuador.
In mid-August, Ecuadorian troops exchanged gunfire with alleged members of the FARC after a border patrol located seven armed persons, two of whom were detained.
A month earlier, authorities discovered an abandoned camp in Ecuadorian territory that was allegedly used by an armed militia. EFE.