The life of the journalist team of the El Comercio newspaper kidnapped in Mataje allegedly depended on the release of three members of the narco-terrorist organization detained with weapons. The case was in the hands of two judges in San Lorenzo, but none of them finalized the trial hearing, now it was called for May 11.
On the kidnapping and murder of the journalistic team of El Comercio newspaper: Javier Ortega, Paúl Rivas and Efraín Segarra, much remains to be investigated, although the fiscal investigations and the judicial file give clues.
From there it follows that the story of his tragic outcome did not begin on March 26 when they crossed the Navy’s checkpoint on the road to Mataje (Esmeraldas). This was the last control with military and police presence to enter the border community with Colombia, turned into the epicenter of the violence unleashed by alias “Guacho”.
The midnight of January 11, 2018, when the elite teams of the San Lorenzo Police, accompanied by the Prosecutor’s Office and with a court order, were preparing to enter the parish of Mataje, the agents clearly knew the objective: to arrest those who were in a modest mixed-build house,. At 02:00, the uniformed men went through the wooden door and found three men who were sleeping at that moment in the middle of weapons, ammunition, grenades and wicks for explosives.
The evidence was strong, according to the police to formalize the arrest of the Ecuadorian Patrocinio C., 34 years old, in a free union and with a child. They also arrested Colombians Diego T., 28, and James C., 19, who were suspected of belonging to the criminal network of “Guacho.” In the first statements to the Prosecutor’s Office, Patrocinio C. denied knowing foreigners and why there were weapons in their home.
According to court records, he said he was a peasant and that Colombians came to his home to ask him for an inn because they were friends with his brother-in-law Segundo Malabe and that the next day they would cross the border.
Meanwhile, the Colombians kept silence. “Guacho” responded on January 27 with a car bomb in the police station of San Lorenzo. Minutes later, the ECU-911 received a call that could not be identified, where the men of “Guacho” assumed the attack and threatened to kill police and military.
After that aggression, on January 29, Patrocinio C. and the Colombians Diego T. and James C. were taken from the Esmeraldas jail and transferred to the maximum security pavilion of the Social Rehabilitation Center of Latacunga, according to the police. There, the Colombians decided to talk to the prosecutors.
On February 7, at 10:00, Diego T., who supposedly requested a shelter from Patrocinio in Mataje. Half an hour later, James C. confessed that he bought two weapons in the Colombian black market for the purpose of selling them in San Lorenzo, and that the other two did not know about that. While they gave the versions, their lawyers presented writings to Judge Alberto Cevallos, of the Judicial Multicompetent Unit of San Lorenzo, to demonstrate their honesty.
Patrocinio C. delivered a letter signed by inhabitants of Mataje, where they certified his good behavior. Days later the two Colombians did the same, but this time it was the community members of Candelilla who supported them. On February 23, the lawyer of Patrocinio C. played a decisive letter in his defense and asked Judge Cevallos to make an abbreviated trial, where the person confesses his guilt in exchange for a lesser penalty.
The judge accepted the request and on February 27 called a hearing that would be held on March 28. The Prosecutor’s Office did not accept that decision: it assured that the abbreviated procedure can only be given with the endorsement of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The judge acknowledged his error and on March 5 reversed the hearing, as shown in the criminal proceedings.
Ten days later, the two Colombians who at first preferred the right to silence confessed that Patrocinio C. had the alias of “Cuco” and that he took them to his house and gave them weapons. The Ecuadorian alibis were left on the floor. Alias “Cuco”, according to the police, was a key man in the network of “Guacho” and was responsible for his care in Mataje, a commune that frequented her constantly. The following days, the attacks of “Guacho” multiplied. A bomb detonated in Borbón, there were shootings in El Pan, an explosion killed four soldiers in Mataje and on March 26 there was the kidnapping of the journalists.
The entry of the team to Mataje
On March 25, the reporter Javier Ortega, the photographer Paúl Rivas and the driver Efraín Segarra arrived in San Lorenzo. The three were the relay team of their colleagues at El Comercio. Javier, Paúl and Efraín chose the hostel in the outskirts of San Lorenzo.
The next day, after 07:00, the three left the hotel. No matter where they went, the teams always communicated after midday with their colleagues in Quito to tell them their story. However, on March 26 there was never that call. One of Javier’s last messages was to inform his section colleagues that they were taking the road to Mataje. The official version ensures that at 09:30 they passed the control of the Navy, a position located 2 kilometers from the parish and the last place where there was control of the Armed Forces and the Police. The Government maintains that the kidnapping occurred at 3:30 p.m. and that the truck of the El Comercio team was found a few meters from the house of the “Guacho” foster mother in Mataje.
That day, the men of “Guacho” attacked a tanker of water that circulated on the road to Mataje. They activated a bomb that affected part of the chassis of the military vehicle; there were no victims. At 17:00, an intelligence agent of the Police, who was on the track of “Guacho” and who had received threats, was alerted via WhatsApp of the kidnapping of the El Comercio team and to demonstrate their detention the captors sent a photo. A day later, the Ministry of the Interior confirmed the kidnapping of the three.
The decisive hearing
On March 31, the Ministry of the Interior announced that “Guacho” again communicated on WhatsApp to threaten the police with executing the hostages, if they did not release their three men who were still in Latacunga.
In the judicial archives there is no evidence of diligences or hearings against the men of “Guacho” from March 26 until April 2. But suddenly the case was reactivated a day later. On April 3, Ecuador woke up with a video of one minute and 29 seconds, where Javier prayed for their lives.
He said that they had been kidnapped for eight days and were chained. While Javier was speaking, the three embraced. Javier said it was the second video they recorded and asked for the release of the three detainees in exchange for their lives.
The same April 3, at 14:55, the orders of Colombians Diego T. and James C. came to the Court of San Lorenzo to avail themselves of a quick trial and receive their sentence and a possible pardon that would free them. The writings were presented by private lawyers of Latacunga.
According to the system of consultation of judicial cases, Judge Cevallos was no longer in the San Lorenzo court and two days later Óscar Cuenca assumed the position of manager, who on April 5 accepted the request and convened the hearing for the April 18th. That is, 13 days after his providence. In his ruling he recorded that the system did not allow him to make the trial before “because he was saturated and with other audiences scheduled.”
And it arrived on April 12, a day after the news circulated -unconfirmed- of the death of the journalistic team. Before noon, writings arrived insisting on the abbreviated trial. Judge Cevallos, who was returning to his office, summoned him for Monday 16. But a day later, on Friday, April 13, the President of the Republic, Lenin Moreno, confirmed the death of Javier, Paul and Efraín.
The three were executed, their bodies are still not recovered and their relatives and friends claim them. The trial continues against the three detainees and suspected of being part of the narco-terrorist organization of “Guacho”.
Judge Cevallos postponed the trial hearing. In his ruling of April 17, he said that the multiple tasks and assignments of two other offices “have contributed to the physical impossibility of the multicompetent judge, so that he can mobilize to Esmeraldas and can carry out the trial preparatory hearing (…) which is scheduled for April 18, 2018. ” Now they will be judged next May 11. (I)