Femicide of María Belén Bernal sparks outrage in Ecuador

María Belén Bernal was found murdered five kilometers from the Police Training School. Bernal’s mother deemed her daughter’s femicide as “a state crime.”

September 24, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
On September 21, hundreds of Ecuadorians mobilized in the capital Quito, in rejection of femicides and demanding justice for María Belén Bernal and conviction of her husband and murderer Germán Fernando Cáceres. (Photo: Nuestroamericano/Twitter)

On September 21, the Ecuadorian national government reported that 34-year-old lawyer María Belén Bernal, who had been missing for 10 days, was found dead. Bernal’s remains were found on the Casitagua hill, located five kilometers from the Quito Police Training School, from where she disappeared on September 11 after visiting her husband Lieutenant Germán Fernando Cáceres. Cáceres, the primary suspect in her murder, is on the run.

Bernal’s murder marked the latest femicide in a country plagued by violence against women. According to the Aldea Foundation, which tracks crime in the country, between January 1 and September 3 Ecuador recorded 206 cases of femicide. Bernal’s case, in which the police are directly involved, has served as the last straw and sparked widespread outrage against the state.

President Guillermo Lasso, through his Twitter account, lamented Bernal’s death and promised that those responsible would be punished. “With deep pain and indignation I regret to report that María Belén was found. Her femicide will not go unpunished and all those responsible will be brought to justice. My solidarity with her mother Elizabeth and her little son,” he tweeted.

Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo vowed to find Cáceres and bring him to justice. “Ecuadorian Police did their job and found María Belén. I deeply lament her death, a femicide that will not go unpunished. We will find Cáceres wherever he is and bring him to justice. I ask for forgiveness from and apologize to Elizabeth Otavalo and her grandson,” tweeted Carrillo.

Nevertheless, the nationwide feminist movement and social organizations, which had been demonstrating since September 12 demanding Bernal’s safe return, denounced the police, demanding Interior Minister Carrillo’s resignation over irregularities in the investigation of the case.

On September 21, in Quito, hundreds of citizens gathered outside the Agricultural Ministry to partake in a sit-in organized by Bernal’s mother. After demonstrating there for a few hours, they marched to the Police Headquarters, demanding justice for Bernal and conviction of Cáceres. The protesters raised slogans such as “Murderers, murderers, murderers,” “Police kill, Femicidal State,” “Get out Carrillo, get out,” “Justice for Belén,” “The police don’t take care of me, my friends take care of me,” “I knew it, I knew that femiciders are taken care of by the Police,” among others. The protesters then peacefully demonstrated outside the Police Headquarters, continuing until late into the night.


Legislator Johanna Moreira of the Democratic Left party also slammed Interior Minister Carrillo and the police for their irresponsibility. “Minister Patricio Carrillo, your work and that of the National Police is not finding our dead bodies! You must prevent the commission of these crimes and above all DO NOT ALLOW THE CULPRITS TO ESCAPE in the sight and patience of those who must protect us,” she wrote in a tweet.

On September 22, Bernal’s family and friends bid farewell to her. A large number of people attended the public wake, organized at the Theater of the Central University of Ecuador in memory of Bernal, to pay homage to her, and to express their support for her family. Members of various feminist collectives, including Ni Una Menos (Not One Woman Less), placed a purple color flag on her coffin and pledged to continue fighting. Within the Latin American feminist movement, purple signifies justice and dignity.

Bernal’s mother Elizabeth Otavalo, in a press conference from the university, stated that her daughter’s femicide was “a state crime.” She said that her daughter’s body was found 12 days later, “circumstantially behind the Police School, which she entered on September 11.” 

“My daughter is a victim. She died inside the Police High School, therefore, it is a state crime,” said Otavalo.

Otavalo added that her daughter’s murder “cannot go unpunished” and said that the day marked “the beginning of a new struggle.” 

“My daughter is [symbolically] going to fight for each and every woman,” she declared.

What happened on September 11?

According to various testimonies, after Bernal came to the institute, the couple had an argument, in which blows, noises and shouts were heard from the room they were in for about 20 minutes. Bernal even called out for help. Despite all this, none of the cadets or officers came to the woman’s aid.

The local newspaper El Universo reported that according to some testimonies, the fugitive Cáceres asked cadets for flashlights and scissors; while others suggested that he moved a bundle covered with a blanket in his wife’s car.

In a press conference days ago, Interior Minister Carrillo confirmed that the surveillance cameras captured Cáceres leaving the facilities in Bernal’s car, but the vehicle was not searched and the security agents did not know if she also left with him.

The initial police reports stated that traces of blood were found in a car and in a room.

Bernal’s autopsy, which came in on Thursday, showed that she died due to strangulation and suffocation.

What caused the outrage?

The fact that Bernal disappeared from a building of those nominally in charge of protecting citizens has caused great indignation. The mishandling of the case and the irregularities in investigation by the authorities have provoked protests and widespread criticism.

Many have raised questions, such as why Cáceres was able to leave the police building without having his vehicle inspected, or why he was released after the Prosecutor’s Office found gaps in his statement.

Caceres vanished soon after giving a statement to the police, two days after Bernal went missing.

Femicide in Ecuador

According to the Aldea foundation, femicide is on the rise in Ecuador. The foundation reported that 1,247 women had been fatal victims of misogynistic and patriarchal violence since 2014, when femicide was criminalized in Ecuador. The crime is punishable by 22 to 26 years in prison.