QUITO, ECUADOR — Every night since March 26, when three Ecuadoran journalists were kidnapped near their country’s border with Colombia, their colleagues have gathered to demand their rescue.
“We’re missing three! We want them back alive!” they have shouted while protesting in front of the presidential palace in the capital, Quito.
The kidnappings of Javier Ortega, Paul Rivas and Efrain Segarra have hit the local journalism community particularly hard, but they are also the latest signs of the growing wave of violence spilling over the border from Colombia and threatening the security of the entire country.
That surge began after Colombia’s government signed a peace deal with the Marxist guerrilla group FARC in 2016. As FARC demobilized, other armed groups moved in and began fighting for control of the abandoned territory.
“It was a border that didn’t have presence of the state. It was the FARC that territoriality controlled and administered it,” said Napoleon Saltos, a professor of political and constitutional studies at the Central University in Quito, to The Washington Post. “The moment that the FARC left to negotiate [the peace deal], it was like a state that stopped acting.”
Over the past year, fighting has increased in several states across Colombia, including the state of Narino, which borders Ecuador. Almost 3,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in 2018 alone, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Now the conflict is moving south across the border. In the Ecuadoran province of Esmeraldas, where the kidnapped journalists were reporting on the rise in violence, the situation has been deteriorating since January, when a bomb exploded at police headquarters in the city of San Lorenzo and injured two officers. Since then, five other attacks have occurred in the province, mainly targeting police and military headquarters, killing three men and injuring several others.
(Photo: Journalists are both part of the story and covering the story. This is the first demonstration in front of the presidential palace, where the journalists and family have been gathering nightly since their colleagues were kidnapped)