By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
QUITO, Ecuador – Two Ecuadorean newspaper journalists and their driver were kidnapped near the border with Colombia on Monday. Since then, their families and colleagues have gathered to demand their safe return.
At the time of the kidnapping, Javier Ortega, Paul Rivas, and Efrain Segarra were reporting for the El Comercio newspaper. They were covering the living conditions of inhabitants affect by recent bombings near the Ecuador-Colombia border. Their story highlighted increasing insecurity and a rise of violence in the region.
These attacks are the latest in a growing wave of violence in the border region. The three journalists were seized in Esmeraldas province where dissident members of Colombia’s FARC rebel group remain active. Since the guerrilla group agreed to peace talks with the Colombian government in 2016, hundreds of former rebels have broken away. Many have become involved in drug trafficking gangs in the border area.
One professor of political and constitutional studies, Napoleon Saltos, explained the source of the issues in the border region. He said, “it was a border that didn’t have presence of the state. It was the FARC that territoriality controlled and administered it. The moment that the FARC left to negotiate [the peace deal], it was like a state that stopped acting.”
Colleagues and friends of the journalists gather to protest outside of the presidential palace in Ecuador’s capital, Quito. They shout, “we’re missing three! We want them back alive!” Relatives of the kidnapped men decided to release their names in hopes that their captors will show compassion and release them. The families said in a press statement, “we considered it sensible to finish with this silence and give a name and a face to our beloved ones.” They say they will not rest until the victims are home.
The Ecuadoran province of Esmeraldas has seen more than its fair share of violence from Colombia. The situation has only gotten worse since January when a bomb exploded at police headquarters in San Lorenzo and injured two officers. Since then, there have been five other attacks in the province that mainly targeted police and military. Authorities blame these kidnappings and violent attacks on FARC dissident groups led by a former guerrilla known as “El Gaucho.”
However, FARC dissidents are not the only violent actors in the area. Local media reports up to twelve armed groups in Columbia’s southern state that borders Esmeraldas. This includes violent paramilitary groups and Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel. Due to its direct access to the Pacific Ocean and light government presence, Esmeraldas has been used as a trafficking hub for drugs, gold, weapons, and even people. With the highest unemployment rates in the country, traffickers have found the area ripe for recruits.
The government is taking steps to address the violence and increase border security. As one of Ecuador’s poorest regions, the government aims to provide Esmeralda with more infrastructure and basic services to local communities.
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